Posts tagged with “Pied Cuckoo”

Riding the wind between continents: the epic migration of dragonflies

Monday, 17 August, 2009

by R. Nandini and Sanjay Sane

In popular folklore the appearance of certain birds is considered to herald the approaching rains. But there are other, less conspicuous, organisms whose arrival often goes unnoticed. Migratory insects of several species arrive in the thousands, either alone or in swarms, staggered across the days preceding the arrival of the rains.

pantala_flavescens_006_std_small1In a recent paper that generated headlines worldwide, Globe Skimmer dragonflies Pantala flavescens (also called Wandering Gliders) were discovered to have the longest insect migration route recorded so far – a roundtrip flight between India and Africa with stopovers in the Maldives and the Seychelle islands.

Charles Anderson, reporting his findings in the Journal of Tropical Ecology <1>, recorded the arrival and departure of dragonflies in southern India, Maldives and West Africa over a period of fourteen years, with Malé, Maldives being the focal site. Dragonfly occurrence (particularly P. flavescens) in Malé began in October, peaking between November and December, coinciding with the east-bound high-altitude winds (~ 1000 m asl) of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ <2>).

pantalaflavescenstalakaveri-small3Putting together dates of arrival across the study sites as well as the duration of residency of dragonflies at Malé, he reconstructs a steady north-south movement of dragonflies from southern India through the Maldives across 500-1000 km. A second wave of dragonflies was recorded in Malé between April and June, coinciding with occurrence of the Somali Jet, a band of fast low-lying southwesterly winds over the Arabian Sea blowing from Africa to India.

While this study was focused on dragonflies, Anderson also reports some information on birds, and found that the pattern of bird arrival in the Maldives mirrored that of the dragonflies, peaking between November and December. Among the bird species he reports as crossing the Western Indian Ocean are the Pied Cuckoo, Lesser Cuckoo, Eurasian Cuckoo and the Amur Falcon.

Collating available information on the migration of birds like the Amur Falcon, wind patterns like the ITCZ and Somali Jet, and records of occurrence of certain species of dragonflies at specific times of the year in the Maldives and India, Anderson hypothesizes that dragonflies, like some species of birds, possibly migrate in a loop from India over the Maldives and Seychelles to east Africa (Tanzania or Kenya) and then back again to India. The ITCZ is known to travel across the African continent, bringing rains to different parts of Africa over the year <3>, and insect, including dragonflies, are reported to migrate with these winds. Anderson suggests that, once in Africa, Globe Skimmers probably move southwards and then loop back north to equatorial east Africa before leaving the continent on the return migration to India.

In all, this incredible circuit would cover a total distance of 14,000-18,000 km, with 3,500 km over the open ocean, and would span possibly four generations of dragonflies.


How could insects only a few inches long undertake journeys that span their own body lengths several million times over? On the face of it, this implies deterministic and purposeful flying, as well as knowledge of which winds to harness to get to a destination. Anderson proposes instead that dragonflies need only rise upwards, encounter a passing wind and then largely soar or glide along this wind till they reach land. If this simple explanation is indeed the way in which dragonflies cover these enormous distances, how will such behaviour be affected by phenomena like global warming, which is known to alter the intensity and speeds of winds like the Somali Jet <4> and the ITCZ?

Dragonflies are reputed to be powerful fliers, and several species migrate long distances <5>. The Globe Skimmer is considered to be the most widespread dragonfly, occurring between the 40th parallels of latitude worldwide, and it is common across India <6>. Several populations of this species are known to migrate, and there are recorded migrations of Globe Skimmers from South America to Easter Island (possibly 3,600 km or more), to New Zealand (2,000 km), across the Chinese Bohai sea (nocturnal migrations) and over the Hindu Kush mountains (at altitudes of 6,500m asl). Within the Indian subcontinent, the Globe Skimmer arrives in Tamil Nadu after the North-East Monsoon, while in the western regions it arrives with the South-West monsoon, implying that there might be more than one migratory circuit even within this region.

While dragonflies and insects remain challenging to track over long distances, a number of studies have used arrival date information, mark-recapture techniques, and even radio-telemetry <7> to determine their migratory patterns. But, given the epic scale of the migration uncovered by Anderson, perhaps it would make sense to simultaneously examine both more visible taxa like birds and more populous taxa like insects. Doing so might provide a more comprehensive account of migratory patterns, mechanisms, and the evolutionary reasons for these spectacular journeys.


1. Anderson, R.C. 2009. Do dragonflies migrate across the western Indian Ocean? Journal of Tropical Ecology 25(4): 347-348. Download pdf.

2. The ITCZ is a weather system around the equator where the North-East and South-West trade winds converge. More information.

3. The ITZC in Africa.

4. Meijing, L., Ke, F. and Huijun, W. 2008. Somali Jet Changes under the Global Warming. Acta Meterologica Sinica. 22 (4): 502-510. Download pdf.

5. Corbet, P. S. 1999. Dragonflies: Behavior and Ecology of Odonata. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

6. Subramanian, K.A. 2005. Dragonflies and damselflies of peninsular India. A field guide. Edition 1.0. E-book of Project Lifescape, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science and Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, India. 118 pages. Copyright K.A.Subramanian, 2005. Download pdf.

7. Wikelski, M., Moskowitz, D., Adelman, J.A., Cochran, J., Wilcove, D.S. and May. M.L. 2006. Simple rules guide dragonfly migration. Biology Letters, 2: 325-329. (Wikelski and colleagues radio-tagged 14 dragonflies in North America and followed them for 12 days with Cessna planes and ground teams.) Download pdf.

Pied Cuckoo in the news (and recent sightings)

Sunday, 7 June, 2009

The early arrival of the monsoon and a possible link with Pied Cuckoo arrivals is the subject of a short article by Max Martinmailtoday_screenshot_small1 writing in the Mail Today on Saturday, 6 June. (Please note that the photo was taken by Clement Francis.) A shortened version also appeared in The Hindu News Update Service on the same day.

We’d like to clarify that the earliest first sighting date for migrant Pied Cuckoos this year was not from the Biligiriranga Hills in Karnataka (which is what the article says), but rather from Kolkata on 17th May by Kshounish Sankar Ray.

Other recent sightings have included:
Chandigarh, 23 May (Vikram Jit Singh); Bangalore, 24 May (Suma Rao); 26 May, Bhubaneswar (Aditya C Panda); 26 May, Dehra Dun (Suniti Bhushan Datta); 28 May, Nagpur (Soham Mehta); 29 May, Jalpaiguri (Mousumi Dutta); 2 June, Pune (Anirudh Chaoji); 7 June, Goa (Fionna Prins). All these sightings were reported to MigrantWatch and can be seen on the Pied Cuckoo Campaign page after you log in. (you can also see records from previous years, all the way back to 1910).

In addition to these sightings,  Sunjoy Monga saw a Pied Cuckoo at Mumbai on 1 June, Mumbai (sent to birdsof bombay); Arunachalam Kumar reported seeing a Pied Cuckoo on 10 May in Mangalore (sent to bngbirds), but it isn’t clear whether the species is migrant or resident in this area.

For those of you who are tracking the progress of the monsoon rains, the Indian Meteorological Department, Mumbai has a very useful map indicating the dates of normal onset of the monsoon (there is also a more detailed map on wikipedia). The map for this year’s onset of the monsoon (from IMD, Pune) shows how much earlier the rains have arrived in 2009.

It’s drizzling cuckoos!

Monday, 25 May, 2009

By MigrantWatch Admin

The first of the migrant Pied Cuckoos have arrived. Following the first sighting reported on 17 May by Kshounish Sankar Ray from Kolkata we now have reports of other sightings from across the country.

Alibag, Maharashtra

18 May, Alibag, Maharashtra; 18.6N, 72.8E
Reported by Dr. Vaibhav Deshmukh to birdsofbombayCj pica - rain bird.tif
Dr. Vaibhav Deshmukh, Pravin Kawale and Shriniwas made an unexpected discovery when they went to check on the status of a Shaheen Falcon’s nest at a communication tower at Alibag. While the chicks were being fed Rock Pigeons one of the parents got itself a Pied Cuckoo to feast on! According to Dr. Vaibhav “This was our first sighting of Pied crested cuckoo of this season; unfortunately it became meal for Shaheen”. Anecdotes suggest that Pied Cuckoos arrive exhausted from their flight over the Arabian Sea, and often fall prey to crows and other predators – perhaps the bird at Alibag was similarly handicapped. (You can read more about this on bngbirds.)

Note from MigrantWatch Admin: In 1931, Salim Ali recorded the first Pied Cuckoo of the year for Alibag on 24 May (Ali, S. 1931. JBNHS 34:4).

BR Hills, KarnatakaBRT Pied Cuckoo_Samira
21 May, BRT Wildlife Sanctuary, Chamarajanagar District, Karnataka, 11.98N, 77.13E
Reported by Samira Agnihotri to MigrantWatch
Samira heard the call of the Pied Cuckoo for the first time this season as she walked in the scrubby parts of south BRT. A glance in the direction of the call revealed a pair of these cuckoos flying around from tree to tree and calling repeatedly. The Soliga tribal who was assisting her told her that they call the birds “Malé Godda’ and that it had a reputation of hanging around in the rain a lot.

Sultanpur, Haryana
24 May, Sultanpur National Park, Gurgaon, Haryana, 28.32N, 77.03E
Reported by Cdr. Kanwar B. Singh to MigrantWatchsumit-port11
Kanwar Singh reported the first sighting of the Pied Cuckoo from Sultanpur in Haryana. A trip report by Soma Ateesh Tripathi on delhibird also mentions the sighting.

Nashik, Maharashtra
25 May; Dindori Road, Nashik, Maharashtra, 20.01N, 73.79E.
Reported by Shriram Vaijapurkar to MigrantWatch
Mr. Shriram Vaijapurkar spotted the Pied Cuckoo in the morning at 9:15 AM as it sat on the overhead cable and called. The cuckoo is a annual visitor to the area and this was the first sighting he has had of this bird this year.

First Pied Cuckoo sighted in Kolkata on 17th May

Monday, 25 May, 2009

By Kshounish Sankar Ray

17 May 2009, Joka Grassland, East of IIM Kolkata Campus, 22.4N 88.3E.

Mr Bhaskar Das and myself were intently watching a reed bed for the Black-browed Reed Warbler when this bird first-sighting_kolkata_rayflew across our vision and perched on an acacia bush nearby. It was before 6.00 am and the light was quite poor. As we shifted position for a better angle, it flew and I was lucky to get a few rather poor flight shots. No calls were heard. We stayed in the area for another three hours. No further sightings or calls were recorded.

It’s quite intriguing that the bird which is supposed to enter the subcontinent from the west was sighted early in the east. As per previous records, the Orissa coast is supposedly one of the places where it is observed early. A sea route for the migration?

[Note from MigrantWatch Admin: The first Pied Cuckoos in the Kolkata area last year were seen on 16 May by Radhanath Polley at the Dankuni Wetlands. Read more on bengalbird]