Plaintive cuckoo

   ›      ›   Plaintive cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus

The plaintive cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) belongs to the family of cuckoos, roadrunners, koels, malkohas and couas, Cuculidae.

These cuckoo species are distributed in India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, South China and Southeast Asia. The male plaintive cuckoo makes several plaintive whistling calls. There are four recognized subspecies of these cuckoo species.

Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of Plaintive Cuckoo Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

Appearance, physical description and identification

The plaintive cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) is a small bird, measuring 20 to 25 cm in length and weighing 20 to 30 grams.

In male plaintive cuckoo, the head, neck, nape, throat and the upper back are pale gray. The rest of the upperparts and the wings are dark gray. The breast, belly and the vent region are rufous. The tail has dark bars and has a white tip.

The female cuckoo is reddish brown on the upperparts with dark bars. The lower parts are pale brown with fine barring. The bill is dark gray and the base of the lower mandible is yellowish. The legs and feet are yellowish orange. The irises are reddish. The male makes a repeated plaintive whistling sound.
Indian birds - Picture of Plaintive cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus
Birds of India - Image of Plaintive cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus by Alnus

Birds of India - Photo of Plaintive cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus
Indian birds - Picture of Plaintive cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus by Ron Knight
Indian birds - Image of Plaintive cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus
Birds of India - Photo of Plaintive cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus by Charles Lam

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The plaintive cuckoo species are distributed in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Brunei.

The nominate subspecies C. m. merulinus is distributed in Sulawesi Island (Indonesia) and Philippines. The subspecies C. m. lanceolatus is distributed in Indonesia (Java and Bali). The subspecies C. m. threnodes is distributed in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (Sumatra and Borneo).

The cuckoo subspecies C. m. querulus is distributed in northeast India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. These populations migrate to eastern-central India (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh) for wintering.

Ecosystem and habitat

These plaintive cuckoo species have low forest dependency. These species occur in altitudes from 0 to 2000 meters. They inhabit artificial ecosystems like pasturelands, agricultural fields, rural gardens and degraded forests.

The natural ecosystem of these species includes tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, open woodland, secondary forests, tropical and subtropical dry grassland, lowland rainforests, tropical and subtropical dry shrubland, swamp forests and tropical and subtropical moist shrubland.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of these plaintive cuckoo species is mostly insects. Caterpillars, beetles, moths, bugs, termites and other invertebrates are their primary food.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of the plaintive cuckoo is from March to September in India, with a peak in July. The breeding season is from May to July in Myanmar. The breeding season is during May and June in Borneo (Indonesia).

The plaintive cuckoo is a brood parasite, laying eggs in the nest of other birds and relying on the host species to raise the young. The host species include cisticolas, prinias and tailorbirds. The cuckoo hatchling may evict the eggs and chicks of the host bird.

Migration and movement patterns

The plaintive cuckoo species are partially migratory birds.

Some of the breeding populations of the subspecies C. m. querulus, from southeast China, northeast India, north Myanmar, north Laos and north Vietnam migrate to central-eastern India for wintering.

The rest of the subspecies are resident. Post breeding, the juveniles may disperse and establish in new locations within the range. They may make local movements for feeding and breeding within their range.

Plaintive cuckoo - Overview

  • Scientific name: Cacomantis merulinus
  • Species author: (Scopoli, 1786)
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Cuculus merulinus Scopoli, 1786
  • Family: Cuculidae › Cuculiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Plaintive cuckoo, Chinese: 八声杜鹃, French: Coucou plaintif, German: Klagekuckuck, Spanish: Cuco plañidero, Russian: Серогрудая щетинистая кукушка, Japanese: ヒメカッコウ, Malay: Burung Mati Anak
  • Other names: Rufous-bellied Plaintive Cuckoo
  • Distribution: India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, South China, Southeast Asia
  • Diet and feeding habits: caterpillars, insects, invertebrates
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)
The plaintive cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) is closely related to grey-bellied cuckoo (Cacomantis passerinus).
The four recognized subspecies of Cacomantis merulinus are: Cacomantis merulinus querulus Heine, 1863, Cacomantis merulinus threnodes Cabanis & Heine, 1863, Cacomantis merulinus lanceolatus (S. Müller, 1843) and Cacomantis merulinus merulinus (Scopoli, 1786).

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the plaintive cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) has not been quantified. The overall population trend of these species is considered to be stable.

Throughout its range it is reported to be common. The generation length is 4.2 years. Their distribution size is about 12,900,000

The plaintive cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable, either under the range size criterion, or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion. Loss of habitat is the main threat that may endanger the survival of these species.

IUCN and CITES status

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the species and has listed it as of "Least Concern".

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for the plaintive cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Cacomantis merulinus
Species:C. merulinus
Binomial name:Cacomantis merulinus
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
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1.Image source:
Image author: Alnus | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
2.Image source:
Image author: Ron Knight | License: CC BY 2.0
3.Image source:
Image author: Charles Lam | License: CC BY-SA 2.0 as on 3-15-17
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