Featured species: Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)

Earlier this year we went to Pipeline Road for a regular photo endeavour but we were very intrigued by the whistling song of the Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus). We have heard this species before, and saw it about two years ago without being able to photograph it. 

We tried to locate the bird by ear entering into the woods once or twice without success, and we practically gave up because the bird was moving from one side to another distant one. Therefore, we returned to the road, and moved ahead trying to find anything else. Then we noticed this strange rattling sound not so far from us at one side of the road. We rapidly confirmed it was the Pheasant Cuckoo which decided to stop singing and was foraging on the ground.

We carefully and quietly re-entered into the forest, leaving the trail, and started stalking the bird to get nice photos without flushing it or interfering on its foraging. It did various foraging movements, and then perched at about 1 meter (3 feet) from the ground first showing us the back, and then the side, there it sung for a while, and then moved to another place, perched at about 3 meters (10 feet). Later, it returned to the same area to continue the foraging, perched again close to the ground and sung again while displaying gallantly. 

Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)

Getting the photos required a lot of patience, waiting, and acting quietly and on the sly. Finally, gaining the trust of the bird, which by itself got so close at one moment that it could not fit in the picture frame. In the end, we were able to make shots from different angles capturing most of this bird's physical features, and also filming it's behaviour.



Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)
The Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus) is a large cuckoo found in forests throughout much of Central and South America in lowland tropical forest. This species is known to be brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of other species; otherwise very little is known of its biology. The bird's natural habitat is the understory of tropical lowland evergreen forest, riverine forests, and tropical deciduous forests, from the sea level up to 1600 m (5250 ft). It is found in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. In Panama it's rare and local, recorded from different parts of the country but true distribution is not well known due to secretive habits. It's usually very furtive, and difficult to see


Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)
The Pheasant Cuckoo has a short crest tipped with rusty brown, upper parts are dark sooty-brown, and underparts are pale buff with small black streaks on the breast. The feathers of the large tail are of varying lengths, with the central ones being the longest. Display involves head and crest raised, breast feathers puffed out, alula and primaries partial extended to show white spots and tail coverts arched. It usually sings from a high perch while concealed in dense cover but we were fortunate enough to see the display at low level and uncovered.


Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)
Its stylized terrestrial foraging includes rattling sounds from feather vibration and vocalization as shown in the video below (bibliography refers to bill clapping). This is an insectivorous species and its food includes grasshoppers, cicadas and beetles; occasionally also small lizards and nestling birds. 

The following video shows two different behaviours:
  • Rattling sounds produced during foraging. These sounds accompany wing and tail movements that apparently function in flushing potential prey. The individual stands with body, wing and tail bobbing, increasing intensity while guttural vocalisation also increase in volume, then rushing forward several short steps, and pecking in litter for prey. Prey consisted of small insects in the litter. 
  • Display and typical song. The song has two introductory whistles of successive higher pitch followed by a trill (whee whee wheerr-rr).



Before and after we found the cuckoo, we had opportunities with only two other species but we ended our trip very excited having captured a very interesting bird and behaviour on our camera.

Fasciated Antshrike (Cymbilaimus lineatus) - male

Whooping Motmot (Momotus subrufescens)