In China, Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus querlus breeds southeast Tibet to Fujian; resident Hainan. Recorded Guizhou. HABITAT & BEHAVIOR Woodlands, cultivated land, and parks and gardens. Small birds often mob. Parasitizes nests of cisticolas, prinias, and tailorbirds. ID & COMPARISON Small, common cuckoo. Adult male has grey head and upperparts (wings slightly browner); grey upper breast. Underparts orange; undertail black with white bars. Female hepatic morph reddish-brown and barred; underparts paler rufous, with more narrow barring of variable extent. Juvenile like hepatic female but always heavily barred. Banded Bay Cuckoo C. sonneratii like hepatic female but has whiter coloration on underparts, pale supercilium, and distinct dark ear patch behind eye. BARE PARTS Eye reddish in adult male, grey-brown to yellowish in female and juvenile; bill yellow below, black above; feet yellow. VOICE Distinctive call a loud whistle descending in pitch and consisting of 7 to 12 syllables, the last few hurriedly trailing off. Also three-note phrases increasing in pitch and intensity. — Craig Brelsford
RESOURCES ON CUCKOOS
The Cuckoos of Shanghai: Craig Brelsford examines the Shanghai-area parasitic cuckoos and teaches you how to tell them apart. The non-Cuculus parasitic cuckoo that one is most likely to see in Shanghai is Large Hawk-Cuckoo. Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Asian Koel, and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo also are occasionally noted.
Indian Cuckoo & Common Cuckoo: A Comparison: Note the smaller size of Indian Cuckoo, its thicker barring, and its darker iris. Voice as always is the surest differentiator. Both Indian Cuckoo and Common Cuckoo occur on passage in Shanghai and breed in the region.
Why This Cuckoo Is Lesser Cuckoo: The Cuculus I saw at Shanghai’s Cape Nanhui in September had the dark eye, well-defined and widely spaced barring, and small size suggestive of Lesser Cuckoo. See my photos of the thrush-sized cuckoo.
My Exchange with a Reader About Cuculus Cuckoos: “Draw a circle around the five [Cuculus] cuckoos [of China],” Craig Brelsford instructs a shanghaibirding.com reader. “Within that circle, draw three circles: one around Indian, one around Lesser, and one around Common, Himalayan, and Oriental.” Using this method, one quickly clusters the three main groups of Cuculus in China.
THE CUCKOOS OF CHINA
shanghaibirding.com covers every species in the order Cuculiformes in China. Click any link below:
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Lesser Coucal C. bengalensis
Green-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus
Jacobin Cuckoo C. jacobinus
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus
Asian Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx maculatus
Violet Cuckoo C. xanthorhynchus
Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii
Plaintive Cuckoo C. merulinus
Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris
Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides
Common Hawk-Cuckoo H. varius
Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo H. hyperythrus
Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo H. nisicolor
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus
Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus
Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus
Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus
Common Cuckoo C. canorus
Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for Craig Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which this species description is drawn.