White-browed Coucal – Centropus superciliosus

Reference species – published on 31st of January 2018
See Cuculidae family (cuckoos, coucals, anis…)
In French: Coucal à sourcils blancs en français


The song of this bird is heard commonly in Eastern and Southern Africa as well as some other regions of Africa and Middle-East. Its much streaked plumage is unique among the African coucals although this seems of little value genetically. Indeed, Burchell’s Coucal has a black head but it is so closely related to White-browed that it might be a sub-species of it. Hybrids are found and, in the contact area, intermediates of all kind are seen, most likely hybrids of several generations.

This bird is a perfect example to illustrate one of the base of our “Bird-in-tuition” method as well as our “holistic” approach. Away from specific details on identification (calls, song, plumage) and range, everything we might describe about that bird would be similar to what to say about other related Centropus, mainly  Burchell’s, Senegal, Blue-headed and even Coppery-tailed Coucals. Breeding (a non-parasite Cuculidae),  courtship, sexual dimorphism (none), territory, food, etc., are all identical or similar with related coucals and actually, on most cases, the whole genus Centropus. In our method, we give those information as high as possible in the “pyramid”, saving a lot of texts, pages, megabytes while giving, in total, more information that others. Moreoever, watching the birds from a more global point of view, we take distance and natural understanding appears naturally. We are closer to an holistic vision. Pages describing genera and families are in construction. 

Taxonomy and sub-species

On our photos, all identified sub-specifically, you can see (and read in comments) the slight differences between the two sup-species; Middle-Eastern populations are sometimes separated in a third one, but better included in nominate.

As explain in introduction, this bird is extremely close to Burchell’s Coucal, at the limit of what is a species and a sub-species, and to other black headed African coucals of the same genus. The strikingly different head pattern is probably the result of a paedomorphic evolution.

Indeed, in some cases, juvenile or immature plumage offers better survival rate than adult plumage. In that situation, some individuals might delay the moult or breed before reaching adult plumage. If it leads to better survival indeed  (so, logically, more breeding success), this strategy will become the use and the (former) adult plumage will disappear and leave way for a new, immature-like adult plumage. There are many paedomorphic evolutions known in other animal classes, but few only in birds. We will recall every possible or confirmed cases on our encyclopedia.


[Species #31 of the Holistic Encyclopedia of Birds project]

List of other species pages: taxonomicalday per day


All photos and text are © Valéry Schollaert and Marinella Mejia

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