The Processionary Caterpillars are out in full force again this autumn, providing easy pickings for this female African Emerald Cuckoo.

The caterpillars are the larvae of the moth named Reticulate Bagnet (Anaphe reticulata) and I have written about them and their silk road and their perfect host the Cross-berry tree (Grewia occidentalis) on which they feed and, from the point of view of the cuckoo, obligingly cluster.

I have noticed this cuckoo – if indeed it is the same one each time – on several mornings, quietly helping herself to caterpillars, carefully picking off one at a time. Although she is not as striking looking at the truly emerald green and yellow male African Emerald Cuckoo, I rather like her understated iridescence and beautiful barring.

2 African Emerald Cuckoo close-up

The emerald green on the female African Emerald Cuckoo is mostly limited to the shoulders, back and top of the wings, on feathers that are delicately barred with beige and brown

3 African Emerald Cuckoo female

The barring on her underside creates an almost marbled effect

4 African Emerald Cuckoo eating caterpillars

The colours are set off by pure white and fluffy pantaloons. To compare her to the more glamorous male African Emerald Cuckoo click on this link to the Perfect Host

Each caterpillar is twirled and softened up before being swallowed whole, hairy spikes and all. The Bird Ecology Study Group reports that when preparing a caterpillar for eating, the bird makes sure that it expels the caterpillar’s gut contents that are potentially indigestible or toxic. As for swallowing the hairs, these form a mat in the stomach and the hairs can then be regurgitated as pellets. Caterpillars of various kinds form the basis of the diet of the African Emerald Cuckoo. For more on the African Emerald Cuckoo and other cuckoos that visit our garden, see the earlier post The cuckoo has landed.

5 African Emerald Cuckoo eating caterpillars

This caterpillar is being deftly prepared for eating prior to being swallowed

6 African Emerald Cuckoo eating caterpillars

And here one has just disappeared down the hatch

7 African Emerald Cuckoo eating caterpillars

Swallowing the last of four caterpillars eaten during this particular meal

Until now, I have not featured videos on, but as I have captured some video footage of this cuckoo picking off, twirling and eating caterpillars in the Cross-berry tree in our garden, I thought I would share it here.

I am considering including video clips in future posts? I would be interested to know if you think this is a good idea?

Source: Bird Ecology Study Group. 2006. Caterpillars and Birds.

Posted by Carol

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