African baza (Aviceda cuculoides)

French: Faucon-coucou
GenusAviceda (1)
SizeLength: 40 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

In contrast to the powerful, muscular appearance of most birds of prey, the African baza, is a relatively small, plump-bodied raptor. The head, neck and upper chest are mainly grey, with a small, blackish crest at the back of the head and a thin chestnut patch on the nape of the neck. The remaining upperparts are mainly blackish-brown, with short, black tail feathers, marked with three grey bands and ending with grey-white tips. The most striking features of this species are its brightly coloured eyes, yellow in the female and orange-red in the male, as well as its white underparts, which are distinctively patterned with a series of dusky bars. There are three subspecies of African baza, which inhabit different locations and habitats, and can be distinguished by the colouration and markings of the plumage. Aviceda cuculoides batesi has the darkest upperparts and heavily barred underparts, Aviceda cuculoides cuculoides has solid chestnut wing linings, while Aviceda cuculoides verreauxi has distinctive white barred wing linings. The juvenile is mainly brown above, with a white streak running above the eye, and white below, with an irregular patterning of dark blotches on the flanks and breast (4).

The African baza’s extensive range encompasses much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal in the west to Cameroon, extending east across to Kenya, and south as far as Angola on the west coast and south-east South Africa on the east coast (1) (4).

Predominantly a forest and woodland dwelling species, the African baza may be found in trees surrounding rivers, humid savannah woodland, eucalyptus and pine plantations and even suburban gardens (4).

Generally a solitary species (2), the African baza can usually be observed flitting from tree to tree searching for prey, which is either swooped down upon or, in the case of insects and chameleons, plucked from the branches. Its diet mainly consists of large insects, such as beetles, grasshoppers and termites, and reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, but it has also been known to take small mammals, birds, fish and even crabs (4).

The African baza’s breeding season coincides with the rainy season in the tropics and varies according to location, with southern African populations breeding from September to March, West African populations from June to August and Kenyan populations from November to June. During courtship, small groups of males form, and engage in soaring flights, turning in the air in order to display their plain or barred wing linings. Once breeding pairs are established, the male and female may also soar and circle around one another. The pair build an untidy nest in the fork of a tree, composed of leafy twigs, with a small, leaf-lined cup in the centre into which two to three eggs are laid. These are incubated for around 32 to 33 days, with the chicks brooded for a further 30 to 42 days before fledging (4).

While the African baza is never found in great abundance at any particular location, its range is so large that, even with low population densities, its population is estimated to number between 10,000 and 100,000 individuals (1) (4). Although deforestation is reducing the area of its preferred forest habitat, it appears to adapt readily to secondary forest and plantations, and can even survive in suburban gardens, hence it does not appear to be particularly at risk at present (4).

Although there are no specific conservation measures in place for this species at present (1), it is one of the many species found within the Gamba Protected Areas Complex in Gabon (5). This collection of eight protected areas, two of which have National Park status, is helping to preserve Gabon’s unique wildlife from logging and hunting (5).

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  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2008)
  2. Newman, K. (2002) Newman's Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  3. CITES (June, 2008)
  4. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Prey of the World. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
  5. Angehr, G., Schmidt, B., Njie, F., Christy, P., Gebhard, C., Tchignoumba, L. and Ombenotori, M.A.E. (2006) Bird surveys in the Gamba Complex of protected areas, Gabon. Bulletin of the Biological Society of Washington, 12: 327 - 352. Available at: