Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

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Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

Phaenicophaeus sumatranus

Photo 1

Photo taken on 24.5.2020 along Hevea trail,  Lower Peirce Reservoir  in the early afternoon.

Photo 2

Photo taken on 31.5.2020 at  Lower Pierce Reservoir.

Photo 3

Photo taken on 7.8.21 at Lower Pierce Reservoir.

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

Phaenicophaeus sumatranus

They are also known locally (Malaysia and Singapore) as Burong Chenok, Sanok, Krak or Selayak.

Malkoha belongs to the Family Cuculidae (Cuckoos) which has 28 genera and 136 species. This is a very mixed group. Most species are solitary but some live in social groups. Some are nest builders and raise their young as parents (example- Chestnut-bellied Malkoha). Some are specialists in laying their eggs in other species’ nest (Obligate parasitism e.g. Asian Koel).

Cuculidae is divided into six families. One of them, Phaenicophaeinae, contains 16 species of Malkohas. About six Malkoha species are found in Malaysia, while only one is found in Singapore.

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha (CBM) is a fairly large bird, about 16 inches in length, of which 9 inches are tail (photo 2). The long graduated tail has dark green feathers with white tips. This gives it an appearance of widely spaced white bars on its under-surface. From above, it has a dark glossy blue-green color, with dark emerald green wings. However in good lighting, the green changes to a bright blue color. The wings even look iridescently blue. Click on link below to see blue color.   Dark grey is the color of the head. This grey extends downward to the neck, chest and upper belly. From the central portion of its belly down to its under-tail coverts are colored chestnut brown. However this brown is usually not seen in the field, due to non-optimum lighting condition. This can result in calling it a Black-bellied Malkoha, which has not been seen in Singapore for a long time. Both have the same large, arched, apple green beak and prominent red eye patch. This is an elliptical shape piece of intensely red periorbital bare skin.

CBM is usually found in tropical or subtropical lowland forest, mangrove and swampland, stretching from Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia (including Borneo). However, in Singapore CBM is now only found in the forest of the Central Catchment Area.

CBM usually forages in the mid canopy. It tends to sit quietly on a branch for several minutes waiting for food to come. If no food is coming it moves to a new spot, by climbing up or jumping down to a lower branch. It will also hop along branches, scramble and scuttle about amongst the branches and tangled creepers looking for food. Its long tail aids it in its balancing and maneuverings amongst the dense foliage.  When it is high up in the tree top, it may take a short, weak flight to the neighboring tree top by gliding. All these stealthy, elusive behavior has earned it the description of “long tailed, skulking arboreal cuckoos of the forest”.

CBM is insectivorous. It eats caterpillars, grasshoppers, butterflies, cicadas, stick insects, mantis cockroaches, beetles, and spiders. It is supposed to also eat noxious, brightly colored and hairy caterpillars, avoided by other birds. It removes the hard exoskeleton of insects like beetles and cicadas by bashing them on the hard ground or tree branches before swallowing them. It also eats small vertebrates like lizards, frogs, baby birds, skink, tiny snakes and mice.

It is a quiet bird. Occasionally it makes a “tok, tok, tok” sound (like hitting a hollow block of wood with a stick). It is also known to make a high pitch meowing sound.

Both parents share in building their own nest and raising their own youngs. The nest consists of a substantial platform of sticks, built in the fork of a tree, near its trunk. Two chalky eggs are laid in it. There is a very interesting article about the brood care of a local pair of CBM in Mandai Orchid Garden in 2008. Please click link here to see.

Click on the first LINK in the BESGroup article above, to get a PDF copy of the original article in the Nature in Singapore magazine by Alvin Lok and Lee Tiah Khee (16.9.2008).

In general, cuckoo nestling is known to grow rapidly, leaving nest in a little over ten days. They are also known to excrete a foul smelling liquid from their cloaca when they are disturbed in their nest.


Article by Wong Kais

Photos Courtesy of Mr Allan Fong and Dr. Tan Ai Ling

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