The Rain Bird and the Arrival of the Monsoon

About this campaign | About the Rain Bird | Distribution | Identification

About this campaign

The onset of the monsoon is one of the most anticipated events on the Indian calendar. Apart from being critical for agriculture and drinking water, the monsoon rains provide a welcome relief from the dry hot summer and bring waves of life to parched landscapes across the country. Many of us anxiously await news of the monsoon; and some of us eagerly track the bird that brings the monsoon with it.

The advent of the monsoon has for generations been associated with the appearance of the Pied Cuckoo in many parts of India (Ali &Ripley 1987). The strong association between the Pied Cuckoo and rain is part of Indian folklore, in which this species is described as a harbinger of the monsoon. Ancient Hindu poetry refers to Pied Cuckoos as 'chatak',who live on drops of rain (Abdulali 1972).

The species makes a sudden appearance in many areas of central and northern India in the last week of May or early June, proclaiming the imminent arrival of the monsoon with its unmistakably loud metallic calls. Reports indicate that the arrival of the Pied Cuckoo varies a little from year to year, coinciding with variation in the arrival of the monsoon (Whistler 1928). Despite this folk knowledge about the species, little information is available on its migration in relation to the monsoon, apart from a few attempts to compile relevant information in the early 1900s (Whistler 1928; Betts 1929; Simmons 1930; Pillai 1943).

The Pied Cuckoo Campaign aims to improve our understanding of the migration of this intriguing species by collecting data on its arrival across India and comparing this with the corresponding arrival of the monsoon in these areas.The format of this campaign is very similar to the existing format of MigrantWatch. We request participants to send us the date on which they first sight the Pied Cuckoo, the location of the sighting, and a few other pieces of relevant information. Information on the arrival and duration of stay of the species will also help distinguish the resident and migratory distributions of the species.

You can browse various results from the campaign over the years (starting in 2009) on our blog posts tagged 'Pied Cuckoo'.

About the Rain Bird

Two of the three subspecies of Clamator jacobinus (variously called Pied, Pied Crested, or Jacobin Cuckoo) are found in India. These are:

(1) Clamator jacobinus pica (2) Clamator jacobinus jacobinus

A third subspecies, Clamator jacobinus serratus, occurs in southern Africa.The descriptions of the subspecies given here are taken from Payne (1997), Davies (2000) and Payne (2005).

The two Indian subspecies look almost identical, with the northern race having a slightly larger wing; it is, however, impossible to tell the two races apart in the field (Payne 2005). Both subspecies are known to parasitise the nests of Turdoides babblers, laying highly mimetic plain blue eggs.

Clamator jacobinus pica This subspecies migrates to large areas across northern India around the Monsoon and has often been called the "rain visitor". It is one of the few migratory birds that come to the Indian subcontinent from Africa to breed. They move across the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to reach India in May or June; records from Oman, Saudi Arabia and the Seychelles have been reported during the migratory season. Some believe that the bird uses monsoon winds to assist its flight during this migration. It breeds during June-August and leaves the subcontinent in September/October.

Clamator jacobinus jacobinus This subspecies is resident south of roughly 15 degrees North in parts of southern India and in Sri Lanka. It breeds during January-March. The extent and status of this resident population is not clearly documented, although the range has been defined as the western and southern peninsula, and Sri Lanka (vagrant to Lakshadweep).

In one of the most comprehensive papers on this species, published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society in 1928, Hugh Whistler wrote (Whistler 1928):

"It is obvious that we need a great deal more information about this bird in India, both to its distribution and its status. It is so common, so easily recognized by its handsome plumage and so conspicuous with its loud calls that much of the required information must be already in the possession of the members of the Society."

His plea for information was followed by various small notes on sightings of the Pied Crested Cuckoo. We have used some of these notes, together with the information collected by Whistler as well as other publications to begin a database on Pied Cuckoo sightings. You can see the complete list of Pied Cuckoo records available with MigrantWatch on the data page.

Habitat: Light woodland, scrub, gardens. Size: Similar to that of a myna

Distribution:

The migrant population comes to most parts of northern and central India; normally up to the altitude of 2600m (vagrant to higher altitudes: Ali & Ripley 1987). The resident population has been reported from the southern and western peninsula but the northern limit of this population is unclear. An arbitrary line of demarcation has been proposed for the two Indian races; this line runs from just south of Mumbai northwards to Darbhanga in north Bihar. Birds found breeding north of this line are considered to be those of the northern race that migrates to India, and the breeding birds south of this line are considered to be the resident race (Ali & Ripley 1987; Serrao 1996)

Field Identification tips

Appearance distinct. It is a slender, long-tailed, crested, black-and-white bird (See photo). The spot on the wing appears as a white band in flight. Sexes alike. In juveniles, the crest is less developed and the wing patch is smaller than in adults. What is deep black in adults is dull and sooty in juveniles. The species is mainly arboreal and is very conspicuous during breeding season (June-August). Call is a metallic peew piu-piu-(piu); pee-ew; piu... (piu... pee-pee-piu). You can hear recordings of the call here: [MP3, 250Kb, 10s], courtesy Samira Agnihotri; [MP3, 80Kb, 10s], courtesy Sachin Shurpali.

References

    • Abdulali H. 1972. Some bird notes by W.F. Sinclair. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 69(2): 422-424.
    • Ali S, Ripley SD. 1987. Compact Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Oxford University Press.
    • Betts FN. 1929. Migration of the Pied Crested CuckooClamator jacobinus. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 33(3): 714.
    • Davies N. 2000. Cuckoos, Cowbirds and other cheats. T & A D Poyser, London.
    • Grimmett R, Inskipp C & Inskipp T. 1999. Pocket guide to the birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Oxford University Press.
    • Kazmierczak K. & van Perlo B. 2000. A field guide to the Birds of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives. Om Book Service, Delhi.
    • Khachar S. 1989. Pied Crested CuckooClamator jacobinus -- the harbringer of the monsoon. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 86(3): 448-449.
    • Payne RB. 1997. Family Cuculidae (Cuckoos) in: del Hoyo J, Elliott A & Sargatal J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world, Vol 4. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
    • Payne RB. 2005. The Cuckoos. Oxford University Press.
    • Pillai NG. 1943. Migration of Pied Crested Cuckoo [Clamator jacobinus (Boddaert)]. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 43(4): 658.
    • Rasmussen PC & Anderton JC. 2005. Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, Vol 1 & 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions, Washington, D.C. and Barcelona.
    • Serrao JS 1996. The mystery of the Pied Crested Cuckoo. Hornbill 3: 26-27.
    • Simmons RM. 1930. Migration of the Pied Crested-Cuckoo (Coccystes jacobinus). Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 34(1): 252-253.
    • Whistler H. 1928. The migration of the Pied Crested Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 33(1): 136-145.
   
Design: Pavithra Sankaran. MigrantWatch is a project of the Citizen Science Programme of NCBS in association with Indian Birds Journal