Family Cuckoos (Cuculidae)

Least Concern

Black Cuckoo (Cuculus clamosus)


French: Coucou criard German: Schwarzkuckuck Spanish: Cuco negro

Cuculus clamosus


, 1801,

Cape of Good Hope = Cradock, Eastern Cape, South Africa


Formerly listed as C. cafer, but that name was officially suppressed, largely because of confusion with Clamator levaillantii. Several subspecies have been described on basis of plumage coloration, but it appears impossible to assign with complete confidence birds of a particular colour to a geographical area, although rufous-breasted individuals predominate in W Africa (formerly separated as race gabonensis) and black ones predominate in S Africa; in Ethiopia both forms occur in relatively equal proportion. Moreover, some birds from S Ethiopia to Uganda, W Kenya and NW Tanzania sometimes separated as race jacksoni, but these represent intermediates or intergrades between the other plumage types; further, individuals in forested regions of C Africa (Cameroon, Gabon and DRCongo) may be virtually all white below and have been separated as mabirae#R. The species may, therefore, be better treated as polymorphic than as polytypic. Monotypic.


Liberia to Cameroon and N DRCongo E to South Sudan, S & E Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, and S through Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, S DRCongo and Angola to N & C Namibia, Zimbabwe and E & S South Africa; also recorded in Sierra Leone (Gola Forest and Tiwai I), but mostly silent, suggesting it is probably only a non-breeding migrant#R. Migrates to equatorial W Africa, where recorded irregularly W to Senegambia.

Descriptive notes

31 cm; male 78–103·5 g, female 78–102·7 g.  Adult black above, glossed greenish blue, tail tipped white; iris brown, bill black. Juvenile... read more


Often vocalizes at night. Loud, mournful slow whistle, “whoo whoo whee”, second note... read more


Forest, open woodland, riparian woodland, farmbush, acacia thicket. In S Africa occurs in open... read more

Food and feeding

Insectivorous, taking mainly hairy (but also smooth) caterpillars (in E Cape, South Africa, mainly Bombycomorpha bifasciata), also... read more


Breeds Oct–Dec in S Africa, Oct–Nov in Angola, Apr–Oct in Uganda, Mar–May in Kenya and Tanzania; few breeding... read more


Race gabonensis is sedentary in forests in W & C Africa. Race clamosus is... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened. Generally common resident in forests in lower Guinea region of W Africa and equatorial C & E Africa, but uncommon to rare in Sudan, uncommon and... read more

Recommended citation

Payne, R. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Black Cuckoo (Cuculus clamosus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 25 February 2020).