Greater Coucal: A snake for the chick

“My wife and I spotted this adult Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis bubutus) in the heat of the afternoon (3.50pm). It was initially seen ‘hiding’ from us in a young acacia (Acacia auriculiformis) tree (below left). We saw prey in its beak and recognised it had probably had a nest and young nearby. So we withdrew to about 8-10 meters to give it space. After about 10 minutes it felt we were less of a threat and slowly scrambled up the tree to launch itself, as coucals often do. Had great views of the ‘clumsy’ flight and excellent gliding of this bird (below right).

“Always a struggle between taking video or stills but I am still largely keen on stills. It landed some 15 -18 meters away but we did not look hard for the nest so as not to disturb the young. Also there were some other people around and the juveniles of this species are collected for ‘medicinal’ value by some traditional individuals (see GC Madoc 1976, Quentin Phillipps 2009, Smythies & Davidson 1999).

“The prey carried for its young looks like a snake. We considered the tail of a large lizard but all views support a snake. Possibly a Banded Krait (Bungarus fasciatus) from my available snake guides at home and Wikipedia. This is highly venomous snake locally. Whether this was killed by the Greater Coucal or part of a road kill is uncertain.

“In records from the region the Greater Coucal is not documented as feeding on snakes, see The Birds of Borneo by Smythies (4th edition revised by Davidson 1999). Nor in the peninsular (see DR Wells 1999). Usually documented as eating snails, small rodents, frogs, eggs, lizards, etc.

“Have also check images at Borneo Bird Images. The Oriental Bird Images has an images from Atul Dhamankar, showing what appears to be a snake being eaten HERE.

“A brief search on the net showed some suggestion of snakes in the diet from the Indian sub-continent:
1. ‘A poor flier that eats lizards, small snakes, eggs and young of other birds and also insects.'”
2. ‘Diet: Insects, Reptiles like snakes, lizards.’ and
3. ‘Not sure if the above are based on observation of feeding on snakes, but our observation support them. However the same species from another region may behave differently.’

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Kuching City North, Sarawak (Borneo), Malaysia
Open “scrub” land near urban housing area
12th March 2011

4 Responses

  1. Gloria Seow

    Hi. For the snake – the barring is on the underside or topside or both? Do you have a better shot of the snake itself? Becoz the Banded Malayan Coral Snake (Calliophis intestinalis) has black and white bars on its underside. And it is a smaller snake than the Banded Krait, with max length 71cm vs 1.5m.

  2. Tou Jing Yi

    Actually a very wild suspicion, had anyone think that it was merely a broken tail of the Water Monitor???? It does match the pattern, and the photos were too small to see any head structure, and the larger end seemed to be pretty damaged?? Wild guess….. Dr Amar, you have any close ups to check?

  3. Sun Chong Hong

    Amar has already stated “We considered the tail of a large lizard but all views support a snake”.

  4. Slim Sreedharan

    It has been recorded taking snakes in India – Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Vol. 3 (Ali & Ripley 1969).

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