African Emerald Cuckoo
Diepwalle Camping Decks Knysna
18–20 cm; 33–41 g
A forest cuckoo, larger than other glossy green species. The male has a sulphur-yellow lower breast and belly contrasting with brilliant emerald-green upper breast, throat and upper parts; the vent is barred green and white. Female and juv. are finely barred, green and brown above and green and white below; they lack the white eye stripe of juv. Klaas’s Cuckoo.
Loud, ringing whistle, ‘wit-huu, or-we’ (rendered ‘pretty Georg-me’).
Status and biology
Common resident and intra-African br. Summer migrant in evergreen forest. Brood host is mainly Green-backed Camaroptera.
The plaintive notes of this jewel of a bird’s ‘pretty-Geor-gie’ calls reverberate through the forest. Yet they’re not called the ghost of the forest for nothing: seeing one can be a challenge, not least because they twirl as they call, making their location hard to pinpoint. In the 1989 Complete Book of Southern African Birds, the Emerald Cuckoo was one of just a handful of species for which a photograph was not sourced; a tantalising illustration had to suffice.
Tiny Green-backed Camaroptera is known to have been fooled into feeding far larger cuckoo babies.
The African Emerald Cuckoo, scientifically known as Chrysococcyx cupreus, is a captivating bird found in sub-Saharan Africa. With striking emerald-green plumage, it stands out in dense forests and wooded areas. This species is known for its brood parasitism, laying eggs in the nests of other birds. The diet primarily consists of insects, especially caterpillars. Habitat loss and fragmentation pose threats to its populations. Conservation efforts are crucial to preserving the unique characteristics of the African Emerald Cuckoo.
The Diepwalle Camping Decks section, managed by Sanparks, was the perfect setting for our first encounter with the African Emerald Cuckoo. Calling close to our deck number three and after a frantic search, we finally managed to set our sights on this elusive forest bird.
Little would we know that for the remainder of our holiday, we would constantly hear this pleasant sound of this cuckoo calling. Capturing a few images would be a completely different story. Ultimately, we had some luck and captured this elusive forest bird.
The African emerald cuckoo is sexually dimorphic. The males have a green back and head with a yellow breast. Females are barred green and brown on their backs and green and white on their breasts. The African emerald cuckoo can also be identified by its call, a four-note whistle with the mnemonic device of “Hello Ju-dy.”
The cuckoo’s diet consists mainly of insects like caterpillars and ants. The diet can be supplemented with some fruit, and the African emerald cuckoo often forages in the middle and top layers of the canopy.
Chrysococcyx cupreus in a spawn of Anabathmis newtonii – MHNT
Like most cuckoos, the African emerald cuckoo is a brood parasite. Female African emerald cuckoos lay eggs in the nests of other bird species. A female cuckoo can lay between 19 and 25 eggs on average per breeding season. The breeding season occurs during the rainy seasons, generally during the months between September and March. Even though the cuckoos do not need territory to feed fledglings, male African emerald cuckoos still maintain territories to display themselves to potential mates.
Conservation status and threats
The cuckoo’s distribution is 11,400,000 km (7,100,000 mi) across sub-Saharan Africa, and subsequently, the species is not in any immediate threat of decline. However, there is some concern about habitat reduction and fragmentation of riparian areas and lowland forests in the upcoming years.
In the Zigula language its call has been rendered as ziwkulwa tuoge, (“let’s go and bathe”). In Zulu it is known as ubantwanyana, or “little children”, which suggests the song Bantwanyana! ning’endi!, or “Little children, don’t get married!”. In Xhosa it is mostly known as intananja, but its call is also rendered as ziph’ iintombi?, meaning “where are the girls?”  In Afrikaans, it is known as the mooimeisie, or “pretty girl”.