The next time you hear a harsh “skeeaw” sound from your garden, don’t be alarmed. It just means that the Greater Coucal, also known as the Crow Pheasant, is hunting for small snakes and snails there.
The Greater Coucal is a familiar sight in Mangalore, and I have seen it in my garden several times, either walking sedately on the compound wall or hopping from one branch to the other. My elders called it “kupul” (in Konkani), but nobody knew its English name. Interestingly, the pronunciation of the words “kupul” and “coucal” is similar. The bird’s scientific name is Centropus sinensis and it belongs to the cuckoo family.
The Greater Coucal is such a charming bird that you can hardly miss it. As large as a crow, it has stunning chestnut brown wings and back while the rest of its body is black with just a hint of purple. The bird’s best feature is its eyes, which are a fabulous ruby red. It also has long black tail feathers.
The Greater Coucal is a quiet and shy bird, which lives in forests as well as close to human habitations. In fact, it is so quiet that you have to be alert to notice its presence. It is not as active as the smaller birds, and you will usually see it walking sedately on the ground or just hopping from branch to branch. You will find it all over India, and if you are a resident of Mangalore, you will surely have seen it somewhere.
In Mangalore, people who spot a “kupul” in their garden usually remark, “Oh, here is the kupul. I hope there are no snakes around.” The presence of the Greater Coucal is usually associated with small snakes and snails, which the bird just loves to eat. It also feeds on a wide range of insects, caterpillars, bird eggs, and fruits.
The mating season for the Greater Coucal of South India is just after the rains. The male bird woos the female by chasing her all over the ground and bringing her gifts of food. If ever she accepts him, the relationship will last for life. The two build a nest together, a cup shaped structure hidden away in thick vegetation, and the female lays up to five eggs in it. The incubation period lasts 16 days and the chicks fledge in 22 days.
So, the next time you hear a “coop … coop … coop” sound in your garden, you can rest assured that a Greater Coucal has visited you. Although quiet by nature, the bird has quite a number of calls in its repertoire, including the above-mentioned “skeeaw.” Listening to its calls and watching its activities is quite entertaining.