The Giant Coua is a cool dude of a bird. It was recently seen foraging with lemurs, the first primate-bird interaction discovered on Madagascar.
By Rex Graham
The sides of its head are black, framing an oval of bright blue skin around its eyes, with a pink tint behind them. This 400 gram (14 oz) olive-grey bird looks as if it’s wearing aviator goggles, which is ironic because it feeds and spends almost all of its time on the ground. (It nests up in trees, too.)
The largest species of the cuckoo family endemic in western Madagascar is trapped and hunted. However, it can be found at protected areas such as the spiny forest of the Berenty Private Reserve, the home of many lemurs, endemic owls and couas. Here, the couas act acts tame toward humans.
Biologists had never documented primate-bird interactions on Madagascar until June 18, 2013, as German and British primatologists watched three Southern Bamboo Lemurs foraging on grass in Andohahela National Park, about 8 km north of Taolagnaro in southeast Madagascar. A Giant Coua simply walked up to them and foraged alongside them, sometimes within 0.5 m (1.6 ft) for more than 6 hours. A similar observation was made on Aug. 27, 2013.
Giant Couas Tolerated by Lemurs
As the lemurs sift through topsoil and leaf-litter they can flush arthropods.
“For the heavily insectivorous Giant Coua, this would certainly increase their foraging efficiency at zero cost to the grazing lemurs,” the scientists wrote in Lemur News. “Neither species seemed disturbed by this interaction, so they continued to forage in close proximity,”
(By the way, increased domestic meat availability is a strategy being used to reduce dependence on bushmeat and alleviate poverty near Madagascar’s new, multiple-use protected areas.)
Giant Couas are one of several coua species seen on Birding Ecotours’ regular trips to the world’s fourth-largest island. Birding Ecotours introduces its clients to the island’s five endemic bird families, five endemic mammal families (including lemurs), half the world’s chameleons and many weird plants.
I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy the Giant Coua, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.