Greater Coucal: A snake for the chick

on 21st April 2011

“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

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

4 Responses

  1. 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. 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. 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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