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Cuckoo vs. Koel — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Updated on May 1, 2024
Cuckoo and koel are both brood parasitic birds; cuckoos are found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, while koels are primarily in Australasia and Southeast Asia.
Cuckoo vs. Koel — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Cuckoo and Koel


Key Differences

Cuckoos are known for their distinctive two-note call and are mostly found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, adapting to a variety of habitats from woodlands to grasslands. On the other hand, koels, which are a type of cuckoo found primarily in Australasia and Southeast Asia, are known for their loud and varied calls, especially during the breeding season.
Cuckoos have a varied diet that typically includes insects, caterpillars, and occasionally small vertebrates. Whereas, koels primarily feed on fruits and berries, but they also consume insects, showing a more frugivorous diet compared to the often more insectivorous cuckoos.
The appearance of cuckoos can vary significantly; most species have drab colors suited to camouflage. On the other hand, male koels are starkly black with a distinctive red eye, and females are mottled brown, which makes them more noticeable.
Cuckoos are notorious for their brood parasitism, laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species. In contrast, koels are also brood parasites but are particularly noted for parasitizing the nests of crows and other larger birds, demonstrating a preference in host species that differs from many cuckoos.
Both cuckoos and koels have significant roles in cultural folklore and symbolism across their respective ranges, often associated with themes of time and seasonality. However, koels are especially prominent in poetry and songs in South Asia, symbolizing the onset of the monsoon rains.

Comparison Chart

Geographic Distribution

Europe, Asia, Africa
Australasia, Southeast Asia


Two-note call, less varied
Loud, varied calls, especially during breeding


Insects, caterpillars, small vertebrates
Fruits, berries, insects


Variable, generally drab colors
Males black with red eyes, females mottled brown

Brood Parasitism

Parasitizes a wide range of bird species
Prefers crows and similar larger birds

Compare with Definitions


A bird known for its simple melodic call.
The sound of the cuckoo is often associated with the arrival of spring.


A tropical bird known for its loud call during the breeding season.
The koel's call is a harbinger of the monsoon in India.


Synonymous with deception or betrayal, derived from its nesting behavior.
He felt like a cuckoo, deceitfully taking over his friend's project.


A brood parasitic bird, part of the cuckoo family.
The koel carefully selects crow's nests to lay its eggs.


A member of the family Cuculidae, characterized by brood parasitism.
A cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds.


Known for its glossy black plumage in males.
The male koel's striking black coloration makes it easily recognizable.


A mechanical bird in a cuckoo clock that announces the hour.
The cuckoo clock chimed every hour, keeping the time in the house.


Represents the vitality of nature in many cultures.
The koel is often celebrated in songs as a voice of the wild.


A term used to describe something crazy or foolish.
Their plan to sail around the world in a homemade boat sounded completely cuckoo.


Often associated with tales of longing in South Asian literature.
Poets use the koel's call to symbolize yearning in their verses.


Cuckoos are birds in the Cuculidae family, the sole taxon in the order Cuculiformes . The cuckoo family includes the common or European cuckoo, roadrunners, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis.


A cuckoo of the genus Eudynamys, native to Asia, Australia and the Pacific.


A long-tailed, medium-sized bird, typically with a grey or brown back and barred or pale underparts. Many cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of small songbirds.


Any one of several species of cuckoos of the genus Eudynamys, found in India, the East Indies, and Australia. They deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds.


A mad person.


Mad; crazy
People think you're cuckoo


A grayish bird (Cuculus canorus) of Eurasia and Africa that has a characteristic two-note call and lays its eggs in the nests of birds of other species.


Any of various other birds of the family Cuculidae.


The call or cry of one of these birds.


(Slang) A foolish or crazy person.


To repeat incessantly, as a cuckoo does its call.


Lacking in sense; foolish or crazy.


Any of various birds, of the family Cuculidae, famous for laying its eggs in the nests of other species; but especially a common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), that has a characteristic two-note call.


The sound of that particular bird.


The bird-shaped figure found in cuckoo clocks.


The cuckoo clock itself.


A person who inveigles themselves into a place where they should not be (used especially in the phrase a cuckoo in the nest).


(slang) Someone who is crazy.


To make the call of a cuckoo.


To repeat something incessantly. en


(slang) Crazy; not sane.
I think I'm going cuckoo!


A bird belonging to Cuculus, Coccyzus, and several allied genera, of many species.


A man who is a stupid incompetent fool


Any of numerous European and North American birds having pointed wings and a long tail


Repeat monotonously, like a cuckoo repeats his call

Common Curiosities

What are the main habitats of cuckoos?

Cuckoos inhabit a variety of environments including woodlands, grasslands, and marshes.

How do cuckoos and koels differ in their brood parasitism?

Cuckoos parasitize a wide range of bird species, while koels specifically target crows and similar larger birds.

What do koels typically eat?

Koels primarily eat fruits and berries, supplemented by insects.

Are koels found outside of Australasia and Southeast Asia?

Koels are largely restricted to Australasia and Southeast Asia, with some migratory populations reaching South Asia.

What is the significance of the cuckoo's call?

The cuckoo's call is traditionally associated with signaling the arrival of spring and is often used metaphorically to denote timing and regularity.

Can koels be seen in urban areas?

Yes, koels are commonly found in urban areas, especially in parks and gardens where fruit-bearing trees are present.

How do cuckoos and koels adapt their appearance for survival?

Cuckoos generally have camouflaged plumage suitable for hiding in their varied habitats, while koels' striking coloration, especially in males, can vary but often helps in mate attraction despite the risk of predation.

Do cuckoos sing or just call?

Cuckoos are primarily known for their calls rather than singing, with their calls ranging from the classic "cuck-oo" to other simpler sounds depending on the species.

What role do koels play in cultural folklore?

Koels hold significant cultural importance in South Asia, symbolizing passion and the arrival of the rainy season, and are often featured in poetry and songs.

How do the diets of cuckoos and koels reflect their ecological roles?

Cuckoos, being more insectivorous, play a role in controlling insect populations, whereas koels, with their frugivorous diet, help in the dispersal of seeds, aiding in forest regeneration.

Are there any conservation concerns regarding cuckoos or koels?

Some cuckoo species face threats from habitat loss and changes in the populations of host birds, whereas koels are generally abundant but still depend on the availability of suitable hosts and habitats.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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