It is a small finch-like bird, about 11?13 cm long. It has a short tail, large legs and feet, and a large, deep, conical bill. The adult male has a black bill and a yellow head and underparts. The upperparts are olive-green with black streaks. The yellow areas become increasingly bright prior to the breeding season as the feathers become worn. The adult female is buff with heavy black streaking above and light streaks on the flanks; its face is largely plain buff and the throat is buff-white. It typically occurs in pairs or small flocks during the breeding season and larger flocks outside the breeding season.

Habitat and Distribution

It has a scattered distribution across sub-Saharan Africa where it occurs in open or lightly wooded grassland, especially near damp areas.


It forages on the ground or perched on the flower heads of grasses or herbs. It feeds mainly on grass seeds.


It is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of cisticolas and prinias. The eggs are white, pale blue or pink with brown, reddish or violet markings. They are 17?17.3 mm long and 12.5?13 mm wide. The eggs are incubated for 14 days. The young bird fledges after 18 days and remains dependent on its hosts for another 10?40 days. The young of the host bird usually disappear although there have been records of the host's nestlings surviving alongside the young cuckoo-finch. Sometimes two Cuckoo-finch chicks have been found in the same nest

Calls and Songs

It has various chattering calls. Displaying males have a nasal song.