Show Me Your Hands

Striped cuckoo (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Riffing on cuckoos …

Like the common cuckoo and brown-headed cowbird, the striped cuckoo (Tapera naevia) of Central and South America is an obligate brood parasite. Called “saci” in Brazil or “sinfín” for its voice, this bird is more often heard than seen and that’s a shame because his behavior is so fascinating. When approaching an unknown saci, here’s what he does:

Whoa! Where did he get those hands?

All birds have them. They’re actually the bird’s thumbs. The complete structure with three to five short feathers is called the alula and is used to prevent a stall during slow flight. Pitt peregrine Dorothy demonstrates them while soaring in this 2008 photo.

Alulas visible as Dorothy soars (photo by Jack Rowley)

The saci has black alulas that contrast with his white breast feathers so they stand out when he dances.

Mighty impressive. Show me your hands!

p.s. The striped cuckoo is called the saci in Brazil because it is related the saci of Brazilian folklore. Read more here.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Jack Rowley)

4 thoughts on “Show Me Your Hands

  1. Kate, your decision on whether to post or not!

    Interesting story. My first reaction the Brazilian Poruguese words as I do know a little Portuguese. When I first saw the word ‘saci’, my instinct was that it should be ‘saçi’ – the ç indicates pronunciation like an ‘s’. I also did look up the story and found one reference on

    “Besides disappearing or becoming invisible (often with only his red cap and the red glow of his pipe still showing), the Saçi can transform himself into a Matitaperê or Matita Pereira, an elusive bird whose melancholic song seems to come from nowhere.”

    Crazy, but the spelling in the title and the URL and once in the article is ‘saci’, but the majority of the time is ‘saçi’. So I guess either way works, but I’d have to ask my Brazilian friend.

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