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the web of life in southern Africa

Centropus grillii (Black coucal) 

[= Centropus bengalensis

Swartvleiloerie [Afrikaans]; Zwarte spoorkoekoek [Dutch]; Coucal noir [French]; Tulukuckuck, Grillkuckuck [German]; Cucal-preto-africano [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora >Aves (birds) > Order: Cuculiformes > Family: Centropidae

Centropus grillii (Black coucal)  Centropus grillii (Black coucal) 

Black coucal. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ]

Black coucal. [photo Hugh Chittenden ]

For information about this species, see birdinfo.co.za.

The Black coucal occupies large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, preferring moist, marshy grassland, with little or no trees. In southern Africa it is scarce and localised, and is now classified as near-threatened in South Africa, due to habitat loss. It exclusively eats invertebrates, such as grasshoppers, centipedes and spiders. It is mostly polyandrous, meaning that one female can mate with multiple males, laying 2-6 eggs in a cup-shaped nest built by the male. She then leaves for another male's territory, leaving him to incubate the eggs, for about 14 days, and take care of the chicks, who leave the nest at about 18-20 days old.

Distribution and habitat

Occupies large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, although largely absent from East Africa and Tanzania. In southern Africa it is scarce and localized, occurring in northern Namibia, northern Botswana, Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique and marginally in eastern South Africa. It generally prefers moist, marshy grassland with little or no trees.

Distribution of Black coucal in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Mainly polyandrous, but monogamy has also been recorded, meaning that some females mate with only one male while others can mate with up to the three different males. A polyandrous female would mate with a suitable male, then lay eggs in his nest before moving on to another males territory, leaving him to incubate eggs and care for the chicks.
  • The nest (see image below) is built by the male, consisting of a deep cup nestled in thick tufts of grass.
  • Egg-laying season is from December-March, peaking from January-February.
  • It lays 2-6 eggs, which are incubated solely by the male for about 14 days.
  • The chicks are fed and cared for by the male, permanently leaving the nest after about 18-20 days and fledging about a week later.
The nest, placed in thick grass. Close-up, with two eggs. Young chick.

[all 3 photos Hugh Chittenden ]


Near-threatened in South Africa, mainly due to habitat loss. For information about this species conservation, see birdinfo.co.za.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.