Malkoha - Cuculidae

Return To Index page



Malkohas are large birds with slender bodies, long tail and short  legs. They make up one more group of birds whose feet are zygodactyl [ i.e. the two inner toes pointed forward and the two outer backward].

As for family background, Malkohas are in the same group as Cuckoos. For this larger group of birds generally known as Cuckoo,  World wide -there are 79 species. In  South east Asia - 27 species. The large group can be sub-dived into 3 types of Cuckoos. Firstly the Parasitic Cuckoo - that the name applies and which most of us are familiar with. Then closely followed by the second group consisting of large birds - Malkohas. Lastly a small 3rd group and lesser known birds - the Ground Cuckoo

Malkohas being Cuculidae  from the subfamily Phaenicophinae, have in total, 28 species world wide. They are New world species living in tropical Central and South America but some are found in South-east Asia and Africa.

In Malaysia, though they are forest birds but mostly stay at the forest edge or even open country. Most of them feed on insect but prefer hairy Caterpillars. A food normally avoided by most birds. Malkohas unique preference are common occurrences that I even have pictures on this page to show it happening.

 Malkoha recognized by their long tail, a stout slightly decurved bill, and bare skin around the eyes.

Most Malkoha is described as a shy and restless but sprightly dweller who prefers tall forest canopy. Because of the relatively large size, they can be spotted easily. They do not take flight. Silently they make themselves less conspicuous. But all Malkohas cleverly thread their movements through tangled twigs, creepers and foliage. That classic trait makes Malkohas known for behaving in a squirrel like manner along branches and trying to hide among the thick vegetation. Particularly active in the morning and early afternoon.

Overall their action can be described as slow. Then with rounded wings, they are not strong flier. They rather hop from branch to branch until it reaches the top of a tree. From a vantage point , they will glide slowly and directly to another point. Usually is short distances. While doing so the wings produce a soft hum. Ironically, many a times, I was alerted to their presence by this hum.

As mentioned, they are classified in the same grouping as Cuckoo, unlike the famed Cuckoo's breeding habit, Malkohas have their own nest. A very basic and simple patch of twigs and leaves. The young are taken care of by both parents. Another fact is that the young leave the nest before they could fly. Perhaps this is where they acquired a skill and habit of creeping along branches.

One of the most attractive birds in the Malaysian forest are the Malkohas. Large in size and easy to spot. Very brief flight from one branch to another and then it lies in wait. Happy to meet up with them as they are larger than most birds. Happy they stay long enough for me to get a closer watch. The down side - as they have a habit of staying motionless for a while they tend to crawl and get concealed behind obstacles.  So getting a pictures of a full view bird is not easy. Otherwise they are not in a hurry to stay away from humans.


Black-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus diardi
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus sumatranus
Green-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis
Raffles' Malkoha Phaenicophaeus chlorophaeus
Red-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus javanicus
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha Phaenicophaeus curvirostris

This is the whole list of Malkohas found in Malaysia and I have pictures of them all, not all but almost.

1. Black-bellied Malkoha  Phaenicophaeus diardi

 Size & diagnostic markings:- 38 Cm.

This is a bird of the hills. Usually found in on the hill slope. It is not a bulky bird considering that this measurement of 38 cm has taken into consideration its long tail of 23 cm. as the name implies, this is a blackish bird but not entirely black. So it is a much darker bird when compared with the Green bill which is a much longer bird but having lots of similarities. The same red orbital eye patch is there but diagnostic would be this red patch is without the white trimming. Depending on sunlight, see the pictures, the bird may not appear black at all.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird from Sumatra and Borneo Islands.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland bird of the forest. The bird prefers forest edge of deep forest where the vegetation is less dense. It may also be seen in mountain just below that of the sub-montane climate.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-

I find that the bird prefers hilly areas with slopes as it can moves up and down. Places with less human activities.

Record of bird's call :-    and Video

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 1

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 2

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 3

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 4

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 5

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 6

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 7

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 8

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 9

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 10

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 11

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 12

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 16

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 17

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 18

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 19

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 20

Black-bellied Malkoha  # 21

 My personal jottings on the Black-bellied Malkoha :-

The Black-bellied Malkoha is a very slim bird. Perhaps where compared to other Malkohas, this birds is actually slightly smaller at 36cm long. The tail of 23 cm is included in this final measurement.

I have placed this Black-bellied Malkoha together with the Green-billed Malkoha, following their features, as the 2 birds look identical in the field other than it size. The Green-billed Malkoha is a full size bird at 58 cm.

Yes, beside being a small Malkoha, the Black-bellied differs from the Green-billed in subtle features. For the Black-bellied Malkoha, the white trimming around the eyes do not exist, the throat and upper belly much darker with the streaks hardly visible.

On the few encounters, I had I feel that the birds prefers secondary forest as opposed to forest edge. Then, trees on slopes where they could easily gain altitude and then slides down again. Not seen them in mountain but low hills like those in Laggong and Kiara. Only one other place which was not hilly where the bird was spotted, the Kuala Selangor Nature Park but then, surprisingly the other extreme, up in Maxwell Hills..

It is totally black, with red facial skin around its pale blue eyes and have white-tip at the end of its tail. This is one of the 3 Malkohas with a white tail tip.

This is a bird from Sumatra and Borneo but now common resident of peninsula Malaysia.


2. Green-billed Malkoha  Phaenicophaeus tristis longicaudatus


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 60 Cm.

This bird is more common on lowlands, at the forest edge or roadside of highway passing through a forested patch. Also seen on lone tree in open area. Quite often seen in mangrove forest as well. The is long bird at 60 cm long due its long tail. The head and under part is gray and the upper part is grayish green. The eyes are surrounded by a red facial skin with a white border. The under part of the tail feathers, the white patches at certain angles could be appear as a series of large round spots

 Distribution :-  The north and NE part of the Indian Sub-continent, neighboring south west China and then Sumatra.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a bird of the lowland swamp forest. But the bird more often stays closer to the mangrove forest. Therefore seen frequently near coastal areas.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-

Yes, the bird prefers forest which are wet but sometimes is also seen in hills. Common places would the forest edges of open fields in Bidor and the Matang Forest in Taiping.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video

Green-billed Malkoha   # 1

Green-billed Malkoha   # 2

Green-billed Malkoha   # 3

Green-billed Malkoha   # 4

Green-billed Malkoha   # 5

Green-billed Malkoha   # 6

Green-billed Malkoha   # 7

Green-billed Malkoha   # 8

Green-billed Malkoha   # 9

Green-billed Malkoha   # 10

Green-billed Malkoha   # 11

Green-billed Malkoha   # 12

Green-billed Malkoha   # 16

Green-billed Malkoha   # 17

Green-billed Malkoha   # 18

Green-billed Malkoha   # 19

Green-billed Malkoha   # 20

Green-billed Malkoha   # 21

 My personal jottings on this Green-billed Malkoha:-

The Green-billed Malkoha is the largest of the whole group of Malkoha birds growing up to 60 cm long. All because of the very long tail measuring 38 cm.  The bird may not appear as large as it is a slim bird. Easily identified by its red skin around the eyes [remember the white trimming around the red skills], as usual against a gray head. Most important of all, a pale green bill. Last if the bird keeps hiding from proper view, the bottom part of the tail has a row of circular white patches. From a distance, you could guess from the very long tail with white tip and grayish looking Malkoha. In this section I have highlighted the white trimming and also demonstrated the lighter gray upper breast and throat. The so-called streaks supposedly noticeable are very faint indeed. It has elements of streaks as compared to the plain light gray on the Black-bellied.

The bird is one that prefers forest edge. Normally seen at roadside. Can be considered a common bird. I have seen them so often along the Main Trunk Road, more so the area in Perak. It is not a lowland bird as it was also seen on the way Genting beyond the altitude of Awana. Lastly they are also resident of my backyard i.e. the Kiara Hills. Apart from seeing at the roadside, I did see them within the Mangrove forest of Matang.

This is a lowland birds more often seen near the coastal region. Originates from the Indian sub-continent and east to south China. Also found on the Sumatra Island. Now it is a resident in Malaysia


3. Chestnut-bellied Malkoha  Phaenicophaeus sumatranus


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 40 Cm.

This bird somehow is difficult to meet up with. This is another bird with long tail at 40 cm. Almost the size of the Black-bellied. Though looking like a Black-bellied the belly and under tail is actually chestnut and in poor lighting appears dark colored. With this confusion of lighting and colors, the facial skin on the eyes is orange and the eye itself is whitish.

 Distribution :-  This is another bird from Sumatra and the Borneo Islands.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland bird that prefers mangrove forest to secondary forest.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-

To be honest,  I have no clue where to meet up with this bird other than accidental encounters


Record of bird's calls :-    and Video

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha  # 1

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha  # 2

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha  # 3

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha   # 4

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha   # 5

Chestnut-bellied  Malkoha  # 6

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha   # 7

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha   # 8

Chestnut-bellied  Malkoha  # 9

 My personal jottings on the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha :-

Among all the Malkohas, the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha is the last type I met up with. First seen in Ayer Kroh Forest Reserve. Then again in the  Meru Golf Course in Ipoh and lastly in Kuala Selangor Nature Park. So far all the spots  are lowland forest. So they are seen in forest itself and  not forest edge. Another Malkoha with white tip at tail at 40 cm. One of the larger Malkohas. It has dark colors and red skin around the eyes as well. The last time I saw the bird it was foraging in the canopy area in Perdik. So could this be one of its often displayed habit of staying high up and hardly detected?

Recognize the white at the end of each tail feather.



4. Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  Phaenicophaeus curvirostris

 Size & diagnostic markings:- 46 Cm.

This bird together with the Raffles would be the 2 Malkohas that is frequently seen. Good thing about the bird is that it does not hide and at the same time curious enough to stay still for a while after each of position. Coincidentally my first picture gives an accurate of color as dark oily green for the upper part. The under part spreading over to the under tail covert in dark chestnut. Diagnostic would be the breast which is Chestnut in color while the rest of the belly in much darker shade.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird of the Greater Sundas and the Philippines.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a forest bird. Unlike the few mentioned on top, this bird prefers forested area and those in low hills.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-

It is a very common and extremely large bird that cannot be missed in any forested areas. Seen in forested area, forest edge and also in belukar. So there is no need to name any geographical location.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 1

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 2

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 3

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  #4

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 5

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 6

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 7

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 8

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 9

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 10

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 11

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 12

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 16

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 17

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 18

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 19

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 20

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  # 21

 My personal jottings on the Chestnut-breasted Malkoha:-

Perhaps the most commonly seen and can also be described as the most colorful of all Malkohas is Chestnut-breasted Malkoha. In bright sunlight, the upper part of dark olive green glows as contrast to the bright chestnut of the belly and under part. The red face skin around the eyes id catchy and unmistakable.

This bird measures at 46 cm long is definitely a bird of the forest edge and particularly if there is a water way or river nearby. Originates from the Greater Sundas and the Philippines now a resident of Malaysia.

You could gauge by the number of clear shots from this bird that it is one that do not hide that much among the leaves when compared to other Malkohas. Also a bird that is easily spotted.

Yes, the Caterpillar was hairy though having not much of hair left. The color at the tail is also chestnut. This bird appeared as the largest Malkoha at 46 cm. with its broad tail.


5. Raffles Malkoha    Phaenicophaeus chlorophaeus


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 35 Cm.

The Raffles Malkoha  is easily detected as it makes its soft whisper when moving around. But it is not easy to get a good picture as the bird hardly stop in an open area. Together with the tail of 19 cm, the bird is 35 cm long making it the smallest Malkoha. The head and the breast of the male is rufescent while that of the female is pale grey. The mantle and the tail is rufous-chestnut. A very obvious turquoise facial skin combined with pale green bill.

 Distribution :-  This is another bird from the Islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
 Habitats & preferences:- The is a lowland bird that prefers forest with trees having thick foliages.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-

This is another very common Malkoha in the forest. Its presence in the area is prompted by its call. A soft murmuring though the whereabouts of this large bird may not be detected immediately. So it is not necessary to confirm geographically which forest the bird could be seen.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video

Raffle's Malkoha  # 1

Raffle's Malkoha  # 2

female Malkoha  # 3

female Malkoha  # 4

female Malkoha  # 5

female Malkoha  # 6

Raffle's Malkoha  # 7

Raffle's Malkoha  # 8

Raffle's Malkoha  # 9

Raffle's Malkoha  # 10

Raffle's Malkoha  # 11

Raffle's Malkoha  # 12

Raffle's Malkoha  # 16

Raffle's Malkoha  # 17

Raffle's Malkoha  # 18

Raffle's Malkoha  # 19

Raffle's Malkoha  # 20

Raffle's Malkoha  # 21

 My personal jottings on the Raffle's Malkoha-

The Raffles Malkoha could said to be the smallest at 35 cm.

 A bird of the forest edge, they usually forage in pairs. Among the Malkohas, I feel that this birds is meticulous and it takes a long time combing the site carefully at each spot.  Meticulously going through the leaves and twigs. It is also a very difficult bird to photograph. Does not stop to expose itself but continuous moving, most time behind the leaves. This is a common bird. Unlike other Malkohas who would be slowly make their distance away when approached, the Raffles Malkoha would come rather close to human while they are moving about.

This is a bird from the Borneo & Sumatra Islands, but now also a resident of Malaysia. It is not difficult to ID them as they are almost rufous in color. The male and female very different in appearance.


6. Red-billed Malkoha   Phaenicophaeus javanicus


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 45 Cm.

 This is another rarely seen Malkoha. Most times seen near sub-montane environment but most of my pictures were taken in lowland forest of Pangsoon. The tail of the Malkoha is 26 cm long and in total making the bird to measure at 45 cm. almost the same size as the more common Chestnut-breasted Malkoha. The upper part is grey though many in my pictures show them as blue. The under part is is mostly rufescent. The diagnostic part is the red bill and the pale blue orbital facial skin.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird of the Sumatran, Javan and Borneo islands.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a bird of the lowland forest preferring heavily forested areas on hills slopes. they may be seen in sub montane areas as well. Unlike other  Malkohas this bird do spend more time outside the foliages rather than remaining concealed among the leaves.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-

The bird is not seen as often as the other Malkohas but more often in hilly slopes and mountain areas. I have only seen it twice in the lowland area but more often in the mountains.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video

Red-billed Malkoha  # 1

Red-billed Malkoha  # 2

Red-billed Malkoha  # 3

Red-billed Malkoha # 4

Red-billed Malkoha  # 5

Red-billed Malkoha  # 6

Red-billed Malkoha # 7

Red-billed Malkoha  # 8

Red-billed Malkoha  # 9

Red-billed Malkoha # 10

Red-billed Malkoha  # 11

Red-billed Malkoha  # 12

Red-billed Malkoha # 16

Red-billed Malkoha  # 17

Red-billed Malkoha  # 18

Red-billed Malkoha # 19

Red-billed Malkoha  # 20

Red-billed Malkoha  # 21

 My personal jottings on this Red-billed Malkoha:-

This is the last bird on my list. This bird is fairly large at 45 cm long. A bird from the Western Thailand and all the way down to Peninsula Malaysia. A bird that is truly from this region as well.

The fact is I have not seen enough of this bird to comment, I know so little as sightings are sporadic and far apart. I first met up with them in Telapa Buruk, Bukit Tinggi and then in Awana. All these spots the places are hilly, near to sub-montane conditions and forested.

Then Congkat Recreation Park, a low hill is also one of such spots and it's pristine and heavily forest area. All I can conclude on this bird.

For ID, this is a easy bird with its red bill.


The Malkohas really make many bird watcher happy as their presence is an assurance of good bird life in the area. They are large very easy to spot and ID. Except for the Raffles that emits rather faint calls, otherwise Malkohas are quite birds, surreptitiously moving about with being sighted.

Overall, 3 of the birds are fairly common birds that could be easily sighted in most forest edge, while the other half of the birds may take some time to meeting up with them..