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Common Hawk-Cuckoo - BirdForum Opus

Subspecies ciceliae
Photo by juninho
Perideniya Botanical Gardens, Sri Lanka, December 2005
Hierococcyx varius

Cuculus varius


33cm (13 in)
Ashy grey above, grey chin, pale rufus brown breast and grey-and-rufous barring on belly. The tail is banded with clear whitish bars. Ciceliae in Sri Lanka is much darker, has broader dark tail bands and is much more heavily barred.

Similar Species

Differs from very similar Large Hawk Cuckoo in smaller size, less barring and voice (less shrill in Large Hawk Cuckoo). Both species are also know as Brainfever Bird.


Found in most parts of India (except for the northwest and far northeast), Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and in Sri Lanka. Recently found in Pakistan (Punjab).

Most birds don't migrate, but altitudinal movements known. Records in Oman and Thailand suggest some movement, possibly related to the weather.


Nominate subspecies
Photo by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, India, June-2013


Two subspecies recognized[1]:

Some authorities place this species in genus Cuculus.


Common in wooded country, plantations and gardens. Usually found below 1000m, occasionally up to 1500m. In Sri Lanka between 600 and 2200m.


Often hard to see but very easy to hear.


Breeds from March to July (earlier in Sri Lanka). Like many cuckoos brood-parasitic. Hosts Laughingthrushes and Babblers, e.g. Jungle Babbler. The young throws the host's chick out of the nest.


Nominate subspecies, dorsal plumage
Photo by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, India, June-2017

Feeds on insects, mainly caterpillars but also cutworms, grasshoppers, locusts and others. Takes fruits of banyan and wild bananas.


Song is a series of shrill and loud whistles, rising gradually and getting increasingly hysterical near end. In breeding season sings through day and night much to the dislike of local people.

Listen in an external program

Recording by Alok Tewari
Dist. Jhajjar, Haryana, India, Aug-2015
Single bird calling, after eating a hairy caterpillar, minutes after Sunset, on a road traversing through open countryside and agrarian wilderness.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliot, and J Sargatal, eds. 1997. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334221

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