In the mornings in winter and early spring in the lowveld, you’ll often spot a Burchell’s coucal, or sometimes two, perched like this one, basking in the warm rays of the sun. Named after naturalist and explorer William Burchell (1778-1863), who has many species that bear his name, there are lots of things I like about these birds.
For one thing they’re big (about 41cm according to Roberts) and distinctive looking, which makes them easy to identify, although their secretive natures don’t always make them easy to spot. I also love the way they move deliberately and carefully along the branches of bushes. Sometimes they seem to stalk, cat-like through thick vegetation and in fact, they do eat mice, small birds, reptiles, insects and eggs (almost anything smaller than themselves). They can be clumsy and are known for flopping onto bushes or crashing into thickets after short flights, or running on the ground between large shrubs, rather than fly.
But all traces of clumsiness disappear when they call. Their distinctive 'Boo-o-o, boo-boo-boo-boo-boo' begins with a long-drawn note, that descends in pitch and length and bubbles cleanly over the veld. It’s a pleasure to listen to a pair of them calling back and forth to each other in the summer months when they tend to call most frequently.
South African poet Douglas Livingstone describes their call in his poem "The Rainbird" as “the rainbird's liquid note” and people believe they’re most vocal in periods of high humidity, signalling summer storms…
They are found all around northern South Africa and on the coast from northern KwaZulu Natal to the Western Cape.
– Dianne Tipping-Woods