Recently a bird I had not noticed in the garden before caught my eye. With all that barring on its underside could it be a cuckoo I wondered? It sat for a fair amount of time in a small tree not far from one of the birdbaths, quietly watching.

Even at a distance the lovely scallops on the underside are evident, and the stripe through the eye and the yellow edging to the tail

It was only after the bird had gone that I paged through my bird book trying to identify it. I eventually decided it must be a female black cuckooshrike. The penny dropped as I had seen a male in the garden a week or two before. The male is black, and what made the one I saw striking is that it kept opening its beak to reveal a bright orange gape. Some of the males have yellow shoulder patches but the one I saw didn’t. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph it, so I took a snap of the illustrations in my bird book to provide some idea of what the male looks like as well as the back of the female as all my photos are of it presenting a front view only.

Illustrations for the Black cuckooshrike, with the female at the bottom, the male with a yellow shoulder patch and revealing its orange gape in the centre, and at the top a male without the yellow shoulder patch (from Chittenden, Hugh, et al.  p. 353.)

The scientific name for the Black cuckooshrike is Campephaga flava. Campephaga means caterpillar eater, and flava means yellow. Indeed hairy caterpillars are favoured as prey, as well as insects such as moths, katydids and ants. These birds also occasionally eat fruit.

Black cuckooshrikes form monogamous pairs and their cup-shaped nests are moulded into the fork of a tree and are beautifully and elaborately camouflaged with felted moss and lichen bound with spider web. The nest is lined with fine, soft materials. Only the female builds the nest with the male accompanying her as she gathers material. She is the only one to incubate the eggs with the male bringing her food. She is also the only one to brood the young, but both male and female feed the young and attend to nest sanitation.

This female black cuckooshrike remained perched in the same spot for nearly ten minutes before deciding to fly off as if suddenly on a mission

In South Africa, most black cuckooshrikes are Afrotropical breeding migrants meaning that they spent the winters closer to the equator, migrating back to South Africa for the breeding season where they are present from October to April. However, some remain year round. I saw both the male and the female black cuckooshrikes in our garden during August so it seems likely that they did not migrate away for the winter.

Black cuckooshrikes occur over much of central and equatorial Africa especially on the eastern side and down to South Africa’s eastern regions and along the southern coastal regions. It is an arboreal species and can be found in broadleaf and mixed woodlands, on forest margins as well as in exotic plantations and in well wooded gardens. They are described as being mostly quiet and unobtrusive, which is perhaps why it has taken me so long to notice them visiting our garden.

I zoomed in for a closer look at the beautiful scalloped barring on the pale underside of the female black cuckooshrike

I am most appreciative of all the kind and thoughtful wishes for my husband’s recovery from his illness. He is recovering, but improvement is slow and there have been some setbacks along the way. The main thing is that the general trajectory is one of improvement, but he has a long way to go to regain his strength. We are grateful though that he is on the road to recovery


Chittenden, Hugh, Davies, Greg & Weiersbye, Ingrid. 2016. Roberts Bird Guide: Illustrating nearly 1,000 Species in Southern Africa (2nd edition). Cape Town: Jacana.

Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa: PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to

Posted by Carol