The cuckoo-shrikes are neither cuckoos nor shrikes and are unrelated to either family. Many species do, however, closely resemble those birds in both plumage and form.
The common Wood Shrike Tephrodornis gularis of India has grey plumage, a long graduated tail, and a short, stubby bill. The Barred Cuckoo-shrike Coracina lineata of Australasia is a large, gray bird marked with bold black and white barring below, similar to a cuckoo.
They frequent wooded country and gardens and are typical members of the nomads that roam through tropical woodland. They have a wide distribution from Africa, through Asia to Australasia, though the minivets are found as far north as Japan.
These birds of the genus Pericrocotus are the only brightly colored family members and are Asiatic in distribution. They are 8 or 9 inches long with lengthy tails and bold reds, oranges, and black patterns.
Females are generally duller and, in some cases, differently colored in greens and browns. They are noisy birds, mainly because they appear in small flocks that scour the canopy in search of food.
As with the other cuckoo-shrikes their diet mainly consists of caterpillars and adult insects. Even though they can be bright colors, they do not stand out among the red-flowered forest trees of early spring.
The Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus is the most northern member of the family, breeding through Japan to Amurland. It migrates southwards and is the only long-distance traveler among the cuckoo-shrikes.
The White-vented Cuckoo-shrike Coracina novaehollandiae also migrates considerable distances, moving from south-eastern Australia and Tasmania to New Guinea to winter. It is called the Summer-bird in Tasmania.
Minivets build their neat, lichen-camouflaged nests on a high branch of a tree, where the two to five eggs are laid in a neat little cup. While it is normally only the female that incubates and tends to the young, for some of the other cuckoo-shrikes the male helps build the nest and will watch over them, taking turns with the female.
Dominating the family are about forty species of the Coracina, mostly cuckoo-shrikes, but some are referred to as the Greybird.
They are wide-ranging birds extending from Australia to Africa. They are all similar as they share the basic pattern of dull grey plumage and their forest habitat. They have long, pointed wings and long, rounded tails and fly well among the trees.
The bill is similar to the shrike, marked with a notch, with a strong growth of rictal bristles. The feathers of the back have stiff shafts and can be erected. They can also be shed like pigeons. This allows them to defend themselves as the bird drops feathers to distract a would-be predator.
While most are arboreal, the Ground Cuckoo-shrike Coracina maxima of Australia spends most of its time foraging on the ground. Like the other cuckoo-shrikes, however, it nests high up in a tree.
It is a slim, grey bird marked with grey barring on the breast and rump and has black wings and tail. This sharp color contrast is evident when the birds engage in a courtship ritual of alternating raising and lowering the closed wings.
Most other cuckoo-shrikes have similar courtship displays. Ground Cuckoo-shrikes occur in the dry wastes of the Australian bush in small flocks that move around.
Gregariousness continues into the breeding season, when several birds may combine to tend a brood. There is even evidence of more than one female laying in a nest.