Backyard BirdsUncategorized

Plaintive Cuckoos

Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus)


The Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) is a cuckoo found in the Indian Continent, southern China through Southeast Asia to the Greater Sunda Islands in Indonesia. In Bangladesh, it is often referred to as “Brainfever Bird.”

A good number of them are resident in Malaysia (Southeast Asia), where they occur at low elevations up to 2,830 feet or 1000 meters. Some migrate south to winter in Singapore.

It is native to the following countries:

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines; Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam

It is a vagrant to: Nepal in South Asia.



The solitary Plaintive Cuckoo are found along forest edges, in open woodland, scrub, grassland, plantations, farmland, parks and gardens. They are usually high up in the canopy, and descend to catch insects on the ground.


Juvenile Plaintive Cuckoos

Alternate (Global) Names:

Chinese: ????, ???? … Cebuano: pitopit … Czech: Kukacka duhová, kuka?ka na?íkavá … Danish: Rødbuget Gøg … Dutch: Klaagkoekoek, Piet-van-Vliet … German: Klagekuckuck … Estonian: väike-tüüdukägu … Finnish: Valittajakäki … French: Coucou plaintif … Indonesian: Wiwik kelabu … Italian: Cuculo lamentoso … Japanese: himekakkou … Malay: Burung Mati Anak, Sawah Mati Anak … Norwegian: Klagegjøk … Polish: kukulka siwogardla, kuku?ka siwogard?a … Russian: ?????????? ?????????? ??????? … Slovak: kukucka nariekavá, Kuku?ka nariekavá … Spanish: Cuco Plañidero, Cucu Plañidero, Cucu plañiedro … Swedish: Gråbröstad buskgök … Thai: ?????????????? … Vietnamese: Tìm v?t


Subspecies and Ranges

    • Rufous-bellied Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus merulinus – Scopoli, 1786) – Nominate Race Range: Common on many larger islands of the Philippines (for example, Panay)


    • Brain-fever Bird, Indian Plaintive Cuckoo, Grey-bellied Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus passerinus – Vahl, 1797)
      • Range: Found in the Himalayas of northern Pakistan and northern India east to Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and possibly Assam. South through peninsular India to Nilgiris and Wynad (Kerala). They migrate south to winter in Sri Lanka and Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean


    • Cacomantis merulinus querulus (Heine, 1863)
      • Range: Found in Assam and Lower Bengal east to southern China (including Hainan) – where it is a summer visitor; south through Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to northern Peninsular Malaysia. Some travel south to winter in peninsular India and southeastern Asia


    • Cacomantis merulinus threnodes (Cabanis and Heine, 1863)
      • Range: Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo


  • Cacomantis merulinus lanceolatus (S. Müller, 1843)
    • Range: Java, Bali and Sulawesi

The Grey-bellied Cuckoo was formerly classified as a subspecies, but is now considered a separate species.

Plaintive Cuckoos


Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus)


The Plaintiff Cuckoo is a fairly small cuckoo that measures 8.3 – 9.3 inches (21 – 23.5 cm) in length.

The Adult Male’s upper plumage is grey-brown and the plumage below is orangey. The head, throat and upper breast are pale grey. The mantle and wings are dark greyish brown. He has white-tipped tail feathers. The legs and feet are orange-yellowish. The eyes are red and the bill is yellowish below and black above.

The adult female mostly resembles the male; but often occurs in a “hepatic” morph with a reddish-brown upper plumage with dark bars. Her plumage below is paler with fainter barring. She has a light stripe over her eyes and her tail is barred along the entire length.

Immature birds look like hepatic females except for a paler plumage and they have dark streaks instead of bars on the crown (top of the head) and throat.

Similar Species: Adult Plaintiff Cuckoos look similar to the Grey-bellied Cuckoo, but can be distinguished by its orangey-colored lower chest and abdomen. The hepatic female also resembles the female Grey-bellied Cuckoo, but her tail is always barred


Calls / Vocalizations

This is a generally a very vocal species. The male’s songs are described as a mournful, rising “play to tee” which usually trails off in a crescendo.

The Plaintive Cuckoo call is similar to that of the Common Hawk Cuckoo – however, it is much higher-pitched.

Song intensity and duration is likely to increase during the breeding season.


Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus)

Diet / Feeding

The Plaintiff Cuckoo mostly feeds on insects.


Breeding / Nesting

This brood parasite lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, such as cisticolas, prinias and tailorbirds, for them to incubate and raise the cuckoo chicks as their own. Any fledglings of the host species are tossed out of the nest.

They likely choose these birds as their eggs look similar to their own, making it more difficult for the “host species” to determine which eggs are their own.

Host birds often mob these cuckoos to drive them away from their nests.

Species Research by Sibylle Johnson


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Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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