Nature’s Corner – The New Year’s bird

By Alana Bailey

In the first week of 2023 I discovered on Facebook that there is a New Year’s bird ‒ Oxylophus levaillantii to be more precise. In English it is known as Levaillant’s cuckoo, named after the French explorer, François le Vaillant (1753-1824). In Afrikaans however, it is called the striped New Year’s bird (gestreepte nuwejaarsvoël).

Males and females look alike. Adult birds have a black back with a green-blue sheen. On the white breast, throat and chin there are black stripes, but the belly is creamy white only. The birds have a crest of black feathers and a long tail reminiscent of that of a grey lourie. The backs of younger birds are a rusty brown. They grow up to 40 centimetres in length and can weigh up to 140 grams.

Levaillant’s cuckoos are to be found all over sub-Saharan Africa and migrate within the continent. They prefer a wooded area, savannah with thorn trees, riverine forest or area with shrubs as habitat. They are not currently considered to be endangered.

Their breeding season is in the rainy season, which probably explains the origin of their Afrikaans name: they are frequently seen around New Year’s Day. As one can deduce from the English name cuckoo, they are breeding parasites. They do not build nests themselves, because the female lays her egg in the nest of babblers, while the male distracts the poor unsuspecting birds and lures them away from their nest. Sometimes the female will even break or push other eggs out of the nest to create a better chance for her chick’s survival. When the chick hatches, it will usually cohabit peacefully in the nest with other chicks, until it leaves the nest 9 or 10 days later. The foster parents have to keep on feeding it for up to a month before it starts looking for food on its own.

Levaillant’s cuckoos’ main source of food is caterpillars and other insects, but younger birds also eat plant material. Males will sometimes bring caterpillars to females to attract their attention. They are quite noisy birds ‒ just like guests at a New Year’s party!

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