Pied Cuckoo in Rajaji National Park

Hello readers, Welcome to the Jungle Safari Rajaji National Park blog page. The pied cuckoo, also known as the Jacobin cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus), is a captivating bird species inhabiting the landscapes of Africa and Asia. Renowned for its contrasting black and white plumage and prominent crest, this cuckoo is a true avian fashion icon. Beyond its stylish appearance, the pied cuckoo exhibits a fascinating lifestyle, characterized by brood parasitism, where it cleverly deceives other birds into raising its young.

Description and Taxonomy

The pied cuckoo belongs to the class Aves (birds) and the order Cuculiformes (cuckoos) within the Cuculidae family. These birds typically measure 13-15 inches (33-38 cm) in length with a wingspan ranging from 23-28 inches (58-71 cm). Their weight falls within the range of 3-5 ounces (85-140 grams). While the pied cuckoo’s plumage is predominantly black and white, a lesser-known fact is the existence of a dark morph in certain African populations. These individuals showcase entirely black feathers except for a distinctive white wing patch.

Length13-15 inches (33-38 cm)
Wingspan23-28 inches (58-71 cm)
Weight3-5 ounces (85-140 grams)
Plumage (typical)Black and white
Plumage (dark morph)Black with white wing patch
Pied Cuckoo
Pied Cuckoo

Distribution and Habitat

The cuckoo has a presence across various regions of Africa and Asia. Their migratory patterns can be described as partial, with some populations, particularly those in northern India, venturing to Africa during the winter season. These birds favor open environments such as savannas, woodlands, and scrublands. They can also be found inhabiting agricultural areas.

AfricaSavannas, woodlands, scrublands, agricultural areas
AsiaSavannas, woodlands, scrublands, agricultural areas
Pied Cuckoo
Pied Cuckoo

Diet and Behavior

The Jacobin cuckoo exhibits a varied diet, consisting primarily of insects like grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles. They also supplement their meals with lizards, small birds, and even the eggs of other bird species. An intriguing behavioral aspect of the pied cuckoo is its brood parasitism strategy. This cuckoo cleverly lays its eggs in the nests of unsuspecting host birds, such as babblers, bulbuls, and shrikes. The unsuspecting hosts then incubate the cuckoo’s eggs and diligently raise the hatched chick as their own, often at the expense of their own offspring.

Reproduction and Lifespan

The pied cuckoo’s reproductive strategy revolves around brood parasitism. The female meticulously selects a suitable host nest, often mimicking the host’s eggs in color and pattern to minimize detection. Once an egg is laid, the parent cuckoo departs, leaving the host birds to perform the incubation and chick-rearing duties. The young pied cuckoo hatches precocial, meaning it is relatively well-developed at birth and can outcompete the host chicks for food. The lifespan of the pied cuckoo is estimated to be up to 15 years.7

Pied Cuckoo
Pied Cuckoo

Predators and Threats

The Jacobin cuckoo, despite its cunning strategies, is not without predators. Sparrowhawks are known to target these cuckoos, posing a threat to their survival. While the pied cuckoo is currently listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), habitat loss and degradation due to human activities could potentially pose future threats to their populations.

Cultural Significance

The Jacobin cuckoo holds a special place in Indian culture. Their arrival coincides with the monsoon season, making them a welcome sight and a symbol of the life-giving rains. Their presence is even woven into Indian mythology, where they are associated with the chataka, a legendary bird said to only drink rainwater. The pied cuckoo serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness within the natural world and the delicate balance between species.

Pied Cuckoo
Pied Cuckoo


The cuckoo is a captivating bird species that embodies a unique blend of style, strategy, and cultural significance. From its striking plumage to its remarkable brood parasitic behavior, this avian marvel continues to intrigue and captivate birdwatchers and naturalists worldwide.

FAQs About Pied Cuckoo (Jacobin Cuckoo)

1. What is a pied cuckoo?

The cuckoo, also known as the Jacobin cuckoo, is a black and white bird found in Africa and Asia. It’s known for its brood parasitic behavior, laying eggs in other birds’ nests.

2. What does a pied cuckoo look like?

They’re black and white with a prominent crest. In some African populations, a dark morph exists with entirely black feathers and a white wing patch.

3. What do cuckoos eat?

They have a varied diet of insects like grasshoppers and beetles, supplemented by lizards, small birds, and even other birds’ eggs.

4. Why do pied cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests?

This is a brood parasitic strategy. They avoid parental duties by tricking other birds, like babblers, bulbuls, and shrikes, into raising their young.

5. What is the significance of the cuckoo in India?

Their arrival coincides with the monsoon rains, making them a symbol of the season and even appearing in Indian mythology as the chataka, a bird said to only drink rainwater.

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