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Topic : Rare Birds

Article 1 bullet 05 December 2006

Threat to Black Coucal breeding site.

by Hugh Chittenden

Isn’t it ironic that the one thing that most South Africans really wanted was to secure the 2010 soccer World cup bid, and that successful bid now becomes the nemesis for one of southern Africa’s rarest breeding birds – Black Coucal. Construction work on this new airport site is due to commence any day now so that the airport will be ready for the 2010 World Cup. This means that the Black Coucals will be setting up breeding territories in vain at the end of November and early December this year (2006)! 

Black Coucal

The La Mercy Airport (north of Durban)

During the 1970s a new airport site was constructed north of Durban but plans were shelved and the leveled site soon became overgrown with a thick mat of dense grass – ideal habitat for these scarce summer breeding migrants.

Recent site history

Black Coucals Centropus grillii were first located on the airstrip site in 2003 by Geoff Nichols, Durban’s horticultural (and birding) guru. In January 2004 two nests were located by Greg Davies and Murray Christian. At least 3 - 4 breeding males have been active in this knee-high grassland region during the past two years but sadly this is all due to come to a very abrupt end.

Black Coucal

Black Coucal habitat requirements

Black Coucals require moist, dense, short grassland in which to breed. Sadly, because of extensive sugar cane farming in the eastern regions of KwaZulu-Natal, this is in extremely short supply. There are fairly extensive grassland areas in the protected margins of Lake St Lucia and southern Mozambique but they lie on relatively sandy soils where the grass cover is less dense and mostly unsuitable as breeding habitats for Black Coucal.

Black Coucal nest Site Black Coucal nest

Alternative habitat

Ideally, what the Coucals need is an alternative patch of moist grassland. Are there any Sugar Cane farmers out there prepared to ‘donate’ or abandon a patch of agricultural land for this small doomed population of Black Coucals?

Polyandrous breeders

Black Coucals are polyandrous breeders. Females pair up with suitable males, lay a clutch of 3 – 4 eggs in the nest prepared by the male, then vacate the habitat in search of other males ready to breed! In this way females are capable of laying a number of clutches in a season if there are enough males in the vicinity. Of course the males are then left to incubate the eggs and brood and feed the young on their own.

Young coucal chick Coucal Chick

Red Data species

Black Coucal is listed as a Red Data species in South Africa and regarded as Near-threatened.



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