Baby cuckoo fed by tailorbird

posted in: Brood parasitism, Interspecific | 3

“On July 28th, 2009, while conducting a bird survey at Pulau Tekong, I heard the insistent, begging calls of a young bird. Moving closer, I spotted a medium-sized, juvenile cuckoo hopping about the branches of trees at the edge of the wooded area. It was obviously a Cacomantis cuckoo of sorts.

“I managed a couple of poor shots as the cuckoo actively moved about. The lighting was rather bad due to the cloudy skies. It was obviously still being tended to but by whom? As I continued observing, the cuckoo moved into the denser part of the vegetation and its calling became more frantic. Through a gap, I was able to observe an adult Ashy Tailorbird Orthotomus ruficeps feeding the juvenile cuckoo.

“I remember seeing Common Ioras Aegithina tiphia feeding a juvenile Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii years ago and know others have also seen this. I know that a few others have also seen Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica playing host to juvenile Rusty-breasted Cuckoo C. sepulcralis. [I don’t remember anyone observing a host for Plaintive Cuckoo C. merulinus in Singapore.] However, I do not recall anyone observing tailorbirds playing host to a parasitic cuckoo in Singapore. I decided to do some research.

“Wells (1999) mentions that for the Malay Peninsula, Common Iora is the only known host for Banded Bay Cuckoo outside closed forest and Dark-necked Tailorbird Orthotomus atrogularis and Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris are the only confirmed hosts for the Plaintive Cuckoo. He also states that there are no known confirmed hosts for the Rusty-breasted Cuckoo in the Malay Peninsula. [In the mid 1980s, I have observed an unidentified Cacomantis cuckoo being tended to by Golden-bellied Gerygone Gerygone sulphurea, at Pulau Tekong.]

“Robson (2008) lists the following hosts for each Cacomantis cuckoo, in South-East Asia.
1. Banded Bay Cuckoo – White-bellied Erpornis, minivets, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike and Common Iora; 2. Plaintive Cuckoo – tailorbirds, cisticolas, and prinias; 3. Rusty-breasted Cuckoo – Pied Fantail, Long-tailed Shrike, Olive-backed Sunbird, Pied Stonechat, Chestnut-naped Forktail, flycatchers and tailorbirds.

“Based on my poor cuckoo photos, I would lean toward it being a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo but am not entirely certain. I cannot recall reading or hearing about a tailorbird playing host to a parasitic cuckoo in Singapore. If this is true, then this may be the first local record.”

Subaraj Rajathurai
29th July 2009

Robson, C., 2008. A field guide to the birds of South-east Asia. New Holland, London. 544 pp.
2. Wells, D.R., 1999. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London. 648 pp.

3 Responses

  1. Smathi

    About 10 years ago I recall seeing an Ashy Tailorbird feeding a Banded Bay Cuckoo (almost adult) just at the entrance to Sungai Buloh Wetlands Park. Unfotunately I can’t find my notes from that time. Smathi

  2. Subaraj

    Most interesting Smathi. It would have not only been the first potential record of a tailorbird playing host to a cuckoo, in Singapore but could have been the first record of a tailorbird playing host to a Banded Bay Cuckoo in South-East Asia, based on Robson (2008).

    However, for such an important record, your notes would have been valuable for a confirmed “Sight Record”. A photo would have provided firm evidence, for a fully accepted record.

    At least, this is the criteria used nowadays, in most places. The “powers” would take your comments as an unconfirmed record.

    Do try to find your notes as yours is a very good record.

  3. Smathi

    Unfortunately I don’t have photos. From what I can recall my notes probably were not extensive anyway but I’ll try digging for my old notebook. I think it was about eye level, sitting on a fence or near a gate only slightly hidden amongst foliage. Didn’t realise it was that significant a sighting then! I hope my recall is not faulty

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