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The cuckoos are a family, Cuculidae, of near passerine birds. The order Cuculiformes, in addition to the cuckoos, also includes the turacos (family Musophagidae, sometimes treated as a separate order, Musophagiformes). Some zoologists and taxonomists have also included the unique Hoatzin in the Cuculiformes, but its taxonomy remains in dispute. The cuckoo family, in addition to those species named as such, also includes the roadrunners, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis. The coucals and anis are sometimes separated as distinct families, the Centropodidae and Crotophagidae respectively.

The cuckoos are generally medium sized slender birds. The majority are arboreal, with a sizeable minority that are terrestrial. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, with the majority of species being tropical. The temperate species are migratory. The cuckoos feed on insects, insect larvae and a variety of other animals, as well as fruit. Many species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other species, but the majority of species raise their own young.

The cuckoos are for the most part solitary birds that seldom occur in pairs or groups. The biggest exception to this are the anis of the Americas which have evolved cooperative breeding and other social behaviours. For the most part the cuckoos are also diurnal as opposed to nocturnal, but many species will call at night (see below). The cuckoos are also generally a shy and retiring family, more often heard than seen. The exception to this are again the anis, which are often extremely confiding towards humans and other species.

Cuckoos are often highly secretive and in many cases best known for their wide repertoire of calls. Calls are usually relatively simple, resembling whistles, flutes, or hiccups.[20] The calls are used in order to demonstrate ownership of a territory and to attract a mate. Within a species the calls are remarkably consistent across the range, even in species with very large ranges. This suggests, along with the fact that many species are not raised by their true parents, that the calls of cuckoos are innate and not learnt. Although cuckoos are diurnal, many species call at night.[13] The cuckoo family gets its English and scientific names from the call of the Common Cuckoo, which is also familiar from cuckoo clocks. Some of the names of other species and genera are also derived from their calls, for example the koels of Asia and Australasia. In most cuckoos the calls are distinctive to particular species, and are useful for identification. Several cryptic species are best identified on the basis of their calls.