Great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius)

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Burchell’s starling feeding a berry to a juvenile great spotted cuckoo
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Great spotted cuckoo fact file

Great spotted cuckoo description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCuculiformes
FamilyCuculidae
GenusClamator (1)

A renowned brood parasite, the great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) has beautifully patterned plumage. The upperparts are mostly a dusky, greyish-brown colour, while the tips of the wing and tail feathers are brilliant white. These appear as spots when the wings are closed, giving the bird its common name. The throat is light buff, and the rest of the underparts are bright white (2). The pale grey feathers on top of the great spotted cuckoo’s head can be erected as a small crest (2).

The adult male and female great spotted cuckoo are similar in appearance, while the juvenile has a black head and reddish-brown on the wings, with buffer underparts (2).

The call of the great spotted cuckoo includes a series of short, harsh syllables, as well as trills and cackles (2).

French
Coucou-geai.
Size
Length: 35 - 39 cm (2)
Weight
124 g (2)
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Great spotted cuckoo biology

The great spotted cuckoo is an insectivore, feeding mainly on large caterpillars which, remarkably, it will remove any hairs from before eating. It will also take other prey, including termites, moths and even small lizards (2).

As is typical of cuckoos, the great spotted cuckoo is a brood parasite. The female lays the eggs in the nests of another species, known as the ‘host’, and the young cuckoo is then raised by the host parents. Typical hosts include various species of crow and starling in Africa (3), with magpies being the principal host in Spain (2).

The female cuckoo adds one to six eggs to the host’s nest (3), which then hatch before the eggs of the host, giving the cuckoo chicks a head start. The hatchling cuckoo does not evict the other eggs or hatchlings from the nest, but competes with them for food, making begging calls similar to the host’s own chicks. The demanding cuckoo fledges after about 22 days, but is still fed by its foster parents for up to 59 days afterwards. The host receives no benefit from this relationship (2).

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Great spotted cuckoo range

In the northern summertime, the great spotted cuckoo breeds in southern and eastern Europe and northern Africa, around the Mediterranean, and as far east as Iraq and Iran. In winter, the majority of great spotted cuckoos migrate south, some travelling beyond the Sahara, although some populations remain in Spain all year round (2).

A population also breeds in southern Africa during the southern hemisphere summer, and migrates north for the winter. Due to these migration patterns it is possible to see breeding and non-breeding cuckoos in the same area (3).

A population of great spotted cuckoos also occurs year-round in eastern Africa, undertaking just short, local movements in response to rainfall (2).

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Great spotted cuckoo habitat

Open woodland is the principal habitat of the great spotted cuckoo. It is found in semi-arid scrub in Africa, and savannah-like heathland with some trees in Europe. It also lives in dry cultivated areas in the Middle East (2).

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Great spotted cuckoo status

The great spotted cuckoo is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Great spotted cuckoo threats

There are currently no known major threats to the great spotted cuckoo.

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Great spotted cuckoo conservation

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the great spotted cuckoo.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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Glossary

Brood parasite
An animal that lays its eggs in the nests of members of its own or other species; the host then raises the young as its own.
Insectivore
Feeding primarily on insects.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargataal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Rowan, M.K. (1983) The Doves, Parrots, Louries and Cuckoos of Southern Africa. Taylor & Francis, London.
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Image credit

Burchell’s starling feeding a berry to a juvenile great spotted cuckoo  
Burchell’s starling feeding a berry to a juvenile great spotted cuckoo

© Bram Cornelissen

Bram Cornelissen
Bram.Cornelissen@gmail.com

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