Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)

Cover image: Diederik Cuckoo by Sybrand Venter – Woody Cape Nature Reserve, Eastern Cape – BirdPix No. 243119

Identification

The Diederik Cuckoo is a distinctive, small and slender species. It is among the most conspicuous of all cuckoos. The sexes are similar in plumage coloration but females are duller and slightly larger than males.

Identification male Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Matatiele district, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by John Cox

In adult males the head and back is metallic green with bronze patches on the back of the head and nape. The supercilium, forehead and crown stripe are white. The tail is dark green with white tips and white spots along both edges. The upper wings are glossy bronze-green, with large white spots. The flight feathers are black with white bars across the primaries. Underwing coverts and the undersides of the flight feathers are dark, with white bars. The underparts are white and the flanks, thighs and under tail coverts are barred green. The bill is black while the eyes and eye-ring are red. The legs and feet are grey.

Adult females are duller and have barring that extends onto the breast and they often have a buff-coloured throat.

Identification female Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
St. Francis Bay, Eastern Cape
Photo by Desire Darling

In juveniles the upper parts are dull green, bright rufous or intermediate, with green and rufous barring. In some individuals the rufous is restricted to the crown only. The upper wing coverts carry pale spots (except in rufous birds). The underparts are white and the throat has dark greenish or rufous streaks. The breast and belly have blackish or dark green spots. The bill is pinkish-red and the eyes are greyish-brown. The legs and feet are dark brown.

Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
St. Francis Bay, Eastern Cape
Photo by Gregg Darling

The Diederik Cuckoo is most likely to be confused with the male Klaas’s Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx klaas) but that species has a small white patch behind the eye and a green half collar extending onto the sides of the breast. The female Klaas’s Cuckoo has a whitish streak behind the eye, an indistinct half collar on the sides of the breast, and a grey (not whitish) throat with finely barred underparts. The red bill of juvenile Diederik Cuckoo separates it from all other African Chrysococcyx species of all ages.

Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve, Gauteng
Photo by Pieter Cronje
Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Gauteng
Photo by Philip Nieuwoudt

Distribution and Status

A common intra-African migrant. The Diederik Cuckoo is widespread across the Afrotropics, from West to East Africa and throughout central and southern Africa. It is also known to occur on the southern Arabian Peninsula. The species is widespread in southern Africa, but is largely absent from the Namib Desert and most of the central and north-western Karoo.

The Diederik Cuckoo is likely to have expanded its range in recent times. Its increased abundance in the Western Cape is attributed to an increase in the abundance of its host species. The Diederik Cuckoo is not considered threatened.

SABAP2 distribution  map for Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
SABAP2 distribution map for Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius) – November 2023. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

Habitat

Habitat for Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Habitat – Near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The Diederik Cuckoo occurs in a variety of habitats, from forest edge, savanna and closed woodlands, to semi-arid shrublands, parks and gardens. It is not usually found in closed canopy forest and is uncommon in Mopane woodlands. It is otherwise tolerant of a wide range of woodland habitats.

Behaviour

The Diederik Cuckoo is usually encountered solitarily or in pairs. Males are highly conspicuous in the breeding season when they call for extended periods from prominent perches. Females are skulking and less conspicuous, but are often seen in interactions with males. Females tend to sit for long periods concealed in foliage close to the breeding colonies of host species. The flight is swift and direct, with fast wing-beats.

Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Schoemanskloof, Mpumalanga
Photo by Giles Mulholland

Forages in trees and shrubs, moving from perch to perch through the foliage. Mostly gleans prey from leaves and stems, but also takes prey from the ground or from tree stems. Eats mainly caterpillars, including spiny, hairy and distasteful species. The Diederik Cuckoo also feeds on termites and their alates, grasshoppers, butterflies and various other insects. Caterpillars are grasped near the head, and eviscerated from vigorous shaking. Juveniles skin caterpillars by holding it at one end and flicking it until the skin separates from the body, they then shake them to remove the skin. Brood host eggs are also sometimes eaten.

Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Riversdale district, Western Cape
Photo by Johan Van Rooyen

Diederik Cuckoos are brood parasitic on a diverse assemblage of other bird species. Recorded hosts in southern Africa include Southern Red Bishop, various weaver and sparrow species, Cape Wagtail, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Golden-breasted Bunting, Karoo Prinia, Mountain Wheatear, White-winged Widowbird, Scrub Robins, Marico Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher and Rattling Cisticola amongst others. Parasitism levels vary within and between host species, and between years. Variation in the colour of cuckoo eggs within a particular colony of hosts indicates parasitism by several females. Offspring typically select same host species as the mother.

Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Tygerberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Photo by Gerald Wingate

Females are territorial, defending colonies of potential hosts from other females. Males range across female territories. Males compete for access to territorial females by chasing one another while giving a fast, high-pitched version of its characteristic song. In advertising display, a male will call persistently to attract females. Most calling is done in the early morning and late afternoon from a prominent perch and several females may respond.

Prior to egg laying the female will observe a weaver or bishop colony for some time and flies in alone to inspect a potential nest. If she is detected, she will be driven off by the potential host, or mobbed and driven to ground. She will enter the nest if the host is absent.

Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Darvill Bird Sanctuary, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Dave Rimmer

The female either eats or discards the host’s egg from the nest. Eggs are laid between October and March. and usually 1 egg is laid per host nest. One female can lay up to 24 eggs during the breeding season. The egg colour is variable, either white, greenish white or greenish blue, plain or speckled, and they frequently match the colour and markings of the host eggs.

Cuckoo eggs develop quickly and incubation is completed in 11 to 12 days. The newly hatched cuckoo chick evicts the host’s eggs and young after two or three days. They are largely independent on leaving nest, and are not fed by hosts.

Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
St. Francis Bay, Eastern Cape
Photo by Desire Darling

Further Resources

This species text is adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Dave Rimmer, Desire Darling, Gerald Wingate, Giles Mulholland, Gregg Darling, Johan Van Rooyen, John Cox, Philip Nieuwoudt, Pieter Cronje, Sybrand Venter and Tony Archer is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Diderick Cuckoo, Diederik Cuckoo, Dideric Cuckoo (Alternative English); Diederikkie (Afrikaans); uNononekhanda (Zulu); Umgcibilitshane (Xhosa); Goudkoekoek, Diederikkoekoek (Dutch); Coucou didric (French); Diderikkuckuck, Goldkuckuck (German); Cuco-bronzeado-maior (Portuguese)

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at https://thebdi.org/2024/01/06/diederik-cuckoo-chrysococcyx-caprius/

Bird identificationbirding

Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)
Palmietfontein, North West
Photo by Tony Archer
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!