Red-chested Cuckoo (Piet-My-Vrou)

Maree Clarkson

Tarlton, South Africa

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Artist's Description

W&N watercolours on Bockingford 300gsm
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Link to my calendar Birds in Watercolours 1
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A bird in the hand is a certainty, but a bird in the bush may sing.
- Bret Harte
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30th October 8.04 am and I’ve just heard the Piet-My-Vrou (Red-chested Cuckoo – Cuculus solitarius) for the first time this season! It’s rather late, I normally hear them at the beginning of October, but it’s as if they’ve waited for the first rains before being heard! (We had 20mm of rain last night and 15mm the night before, so the world around here in Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa) is looking and smelling sparkling clean!) They’re extremely shy and very hard to spot, but I managed to get a quick (not-so-good!) shot with my camera before he disappeared back into the thick foliage. Had to use my bird book to complete all the colours.

I have held most bird species in my hands at least once, but with the Red-chested Cuckoo I have not had that pleasure…

In Southern Africa, all cuckoos are migratory (the Klaas’s and Emerald Cuckoos appear to be resident in the warmer east), arriving from Central or Eastern Africa at the start of the rainy season in late September and October. Upon arrival, the males establish territories and advertise their presence to females (and birdwatchers!) by calling incessantly, sometimes even after dark.

The Red-chested Cuckoo is mainly found in the eastern half of southern Africa, and is quite common in protected areas, living in a wide range of habitats. It feeds mostly on invertebrates, particularly hairy caterpillars but also grasshoppers and beetles, amongst others. It mostly parasitizes members of Muscicapidae (robins, thrushes, flycatchers, etc.), rushing into their nests, and removing the host’s eggs before laying one of its own, all in just 5 seconds! Once the chick is 2 days old, it evicts the host’s eggs and nestlings. It stays in the nest for 17-21 days, and is dependent on its host parents for 20-25 days more, before becoming fully independent. (Info from Wikipedia)

This Cuckoo occurs throughout Africa south of the Sahara, but avoids arid regions. In southern Africa it is common in eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and eastern and southern South Africa. It generally prefers Afromontane forest, closed woodland, Miombo woodland, open savanna thickets, stands of trees in human settlements, mature gardens and parks.

Piet-my-vrou [Afrikaans]


31st October 2011 – FEATURED in “Works on Paper”
5th November 2011 – FEATURED in “The Birds”
10th November 2011 – FEATURED in “Painters Universe”
18th September 2012 – FEATURED in “The Best of Anything & Everything”
24th September 2015 – FEATURED in “Women Painters”
3rd October 2015 – FEATURED in “Art and Photography”
7th October 2015 – FEATURED in “The Wonder of Wings”

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