Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory

<I>Centropus (Polophilus) phasianinus</I>

Centropus (Polophilus) phasianinus


Regional Maps

Subfamily Centropodinae

Compiler and date details

R. Schodde & I.J. Mason, CSIRO Australian National Wildlife Collection, Canberra, Australia


Centropodidae (coucals, ground-cuckoos and couas) comprise about 39–42 species in at least three genera; one species occurs in Australia. The Australian fossil record is limited to the Quaternary of the south-eastern region (Baird 1985), unless other records of Cuculidae (Rich & Van Tets 1982; Rich & Baird 1986) apply to this group. The family ranges today throughout the Palaeotropics, from Madagascar and Africa across southern Eurasia to the Malesian archipelagos and Papuasia.

Solitary or in dispersed pairs, coucals and their allies are scansorial birds that feed in tree shrubbery and on the ground in tropical and subtropical savannahs and rainforests on arthropods, small vertebrates and fruit. They run, hop and skulk among undergrowth; flight is slow and laboured, of heavy flapping interspersed with planing glides from perch to perch; plumage is dried and body sunned by spreading wings and tail on exposed perches; voice of sequential booming notes. Non-parasitic, coucals and couas are sedentary and defend breeding territories; nests are an untidy cup to dome of sticks and vegetable matter in undergrowth or dense foliage from ground to forest upper stage, according to species; eggs are ellipsoid, plain-white, and incubated by both sexes or only male; young are semi-precocial, nidicolous, near naked with black skin at hatching, covered sparsely on dorsum with long white wire-like trichoptiles, and are reared by both sexes.

Family-group Systematics

Centropodidae Horsfield, 1823 are distinguished here as a family from other cuckoo-like birds, following Mathews (1918–1919); Wolters (1975–1982), and in part, Sibley et al. (1988) and Sibley & Monroe (1990). Their 'pheasant'-like form, coarse plumage, pattern of feather tracts, structure of sternum and pelvic girdle, bronchial syrinx, and scansorial, non-parasitic behaviour together set them apart from other Cuculiformes. They comprise three generic groups, after Wolters (loc. cit.): Centropus Illiger, 1811, Coua Schinz, 1821 and Carpococcyx G.R. Gray, 1840. For alternative arrangements that include the group within Cuculidae, either as a subfamily or not, see Shelley (1891); Mathews (1912); Peters (1940); Mayr & Amadon (1951); Wetmore (1960); Condon (1975), and in part, Sibley et al. (loc. cit.) and Sibley & Monroe (loc. cit.). Although infra-familial groups have been recognised within Centropodidae (Wolters 1975–1982), their validity and value in so small a family as this needs further evaluation. Nevertheless, Peters (loc. cit.), Sibley & Ahlquist (1990) and Sibley & Monroe (loc. cit.) align Coua and Carpococcyx with other Cuculiformes, leaving their position in doubt.

Genus-group Systematics

Centropus Illiger, 1811—As indicated by Wolters (1975–1982) and Mason et al. (1984), there are three principal groups of species in Centropus Illiger, 1811, all of which may warrant separation as genera upon further study; here they are treated conservatively as subgenera. The groups are:

(1) nominotypical Centropus centred in Africa, comprising mostly white-breasted species with little, if any, sexual dimorphism in size and an apically or proximally concave preacetabular shelf;

(2) Papuasian-centred Nesocentor Cabanis & Heine, 1863, of short-clawed rainforest-inhabiting species with imperforate synsacrum, metallic gloss in their plumage, and simple sternum with reduced carina and without spina externa or hypocleideum; and

(3) almost pan-Palaeotropic Polophilus Leach, 1814 with marked sexual dimorphism in size, apically or proximally convex preacetabular shelf, and long claws with spurred hallux.

Species-group Systematics

Centropus phasianinus (Latham, 1802)—Although the taxonomy of Australasian populations has been settled by recent revision (Mason et al. 1984; Ford 1987), relationships with and among New Guinean allotaxa and related species in Papuasia and Wallacea are still unclear (cf. White & Bruce 1986).


Excluded Taxa

Vagrant Species

CENTROPODIDAE: Centropus (Polophilus) bengalensis (Gmelin, 1788) [Lesser Coucal; vagrant on Ashmore Reef] — Christidis, L. & Boles, W.E. 2008. Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing 288 pp. [163]

CENTROPODIDAE: Centropus (Polophilus) bengalensis sarasinorum Stresemann, 1912 [Lesser Coucal]



Medium-sized to large, usually brown-and-black 'pheasant'-like birds with lashed eyes, often coloured facial skin and stout decurved bills with operculate nostrils; body plumage coarsely hairy, sometimes glossy and seasonally dimorphic, sparse in restricted tracts with apterium between dorsal-cervical and interscapular tracts; no downs; aftershafts absent (vestigial?); uropygial gland well developed, naked. Feet stout and enlarged for running and climbing, zygodactylous; tarsi coarsely scutellate, toes with long claws spurred on the hallux in grassland species; hypotarsus with two closed canals. Sexes similar; females often larger than males. Wings short and rounded: 10 primaries plus remicle and 11? to 15 eutaxic secondaries moulting alternately in 'transilient' mode, alula 5-feathered; tail long and broadly rounded: 10 rectrices moulting erratically and often continuously. Nares holorhinal and impervious, nasal septum imperforate; desmognathous palate with small slender vomer, palatines narrowly flanged and entire across shelf, maxillary processes developed and straight, lachrymals well developed, almost reaching jugal bar, free from broad and sometimes swollen ectethmoids, uncinate bone present or absent; basipterygoid processes absent or rudimentary; interorbital septum with one principal perforation; atlas perforated; cervical vertebrae 14; sternum entire to double-notched on either side, only spina externa sometimes present, furcula µ-shaped with ventrally expanded hypocleideum (except subgenus Nesocentor); fossae flanking preacetabular process of pelvic girdle closed to narrow, shelf of postacetabular processes broad, overlapping ischium dorsally, lateral perforations along either side of iliac crest obsolete to absent. Musculus expansor secundariorum cuculine; pelvic muscle formula ABXY, M. ambiens present; deep plantar tendons Type 1. Carotid arteries paired. Syrinx bronchial. Tongue small, cartilaginous; no crop; caeca present, rather long. Single testis. Karyotype unrecorded.


General References

Baird, R.F. 1985. Avian fossils from Quaternary deposits in 'Green Waterhole Cave', south-eastern South Australia. Records of the Australian Museum 37: 353-370

Beddard, F.E. 1898. The Structure and Classification of Birds. London : Longmans, Green xx 548 pp.

Berger, A.J. 1960. Some anatomical characters of the Cuculidae and the Musophagidae. Wilson Bulletin 72: 60-104

Brush, A.H. & Witt, H.H. 1983. Intraordinal relationships of the Pelecaniformes and Cuculiformes: electrophoresis of feather keratins. Ibis 125: 181-199

Condon, H.T. 1975. Checklist of the Birds of Australia. Part 1 Non-Passerines. Melbourne : Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union xx 311 pp.

Ford, J. 1987. Taxonomic status of Pheasant Coucal, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo and Red-backed Fairy-wren in the Pilbara, Western Australia. Western Australian Naturalist 17: 17-18

Mason, I.J., McKean, J.L. & Dudzinski, M.L. 1984. Geographical variation in the Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus (Latham) and a description of a new subspecies from Timor. The Emu 84: 1-15

Mathews, G.M. 1912. A Reference-List to the Birds of Australia. Novitates Zoologicae 18: 171-455 [Date published 31 Jan 1912]

Mathews, G.M. 1918–1919. On Pachycephala melanura Gould. Austral Avian Records 3(6): 134-138 [Date published 25 Jun 1918]

Mathews, G.M. 1927. Systema Avium Australasianarum. A systematic list of the birds of the Australasian region. London : British Ornithologists' Union Pt 1 iv 426 pp.

Mayr, E. & Amadon, D. 1951. A classification of recent birds. American Museum Novitates 1496: 1-42

Peters, J.L. 1940. Check-list of Birds of the World. Cambridge : Harvard University Press Vol. 4 xii 291 pp.

Rich, P.V. & Baird, R.F. 1986. History of the Australian avifauna. Current Ornithology 4: 97-139

Rich, P.V. & Van Tets, J. 1982. Fossil birds of Australia and New Guinea: their biogeographic, phylogenetic and biostratigraphic input. pp. 235-384 in Rich, P.V. & Thompson, E.M. (eds). The Fossil Vertebrate Record of Australasia. Clayton, Vic. : Monash University Offset 759 pp.

Rowan, M.K. 1983. The Doves, Parrots, Louries and Cuckoos of Southern Africa. London : Croom Helm Ltd 429 pp. 8 pls.

Shelley, G.E. 1891. Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum. Catalogue of the Picariae-Cuculidae. London : British Museum Vol. 19 xii 484 pp. 13 pls.

Sibley, C.G., Ahlquist, J.E. & Monroe, B.L., Jr 1988. A classification of living birds of the world based on DNA-DNA hybridization studies. Auk 105: 409-423

Sibley, C.G. & Ahlquist, J.E. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds. A Study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven : Yale University Press xxiii 976 pp.

Sibley, C.G. & Monroe, B.L., Jr 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven : Yale University Press xxiv 1111 pp.

Stresemann, V. & Stresemann, E. 1961. Die handschwingen-mauser der Kuckucke (Cuculidae). Journal of Ornithology 102: 317-353

Wetmore, A. 1960. A classification for the birds of the world. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 139(11): 1-37

White, C.M.N. & Bruce, M.D. 1986. The Birds of Wallacea (Sulawesi, the Moluccas & Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia). An annotated check-list. B.O.U. Check-list No. 7. London : British Ornithologists' Union 524 pp.

Wolters, H.E. 1975–1982. Die Vogelarten der Erde. Eine systematische Liste mit Verbreitungsangaben sowie deutschen und englischen Namen. Hamburg : Paul Parey xx 745 pp.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
10-Nov-2020 AVES 10-Nov-2020 MODIFIED
10-Nov-2015 CENTROPODIDAE 07-Oct-2020 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)