Cuckoo for ID (Indian vs Oriental) – It was an Indian Cuckoo after all.

posted in: birds, Identification | 0

Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr) saw this adult male Cuckoo at the Ulu Kinta Forest Reserve, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia on 28th February 2019. The forest had been previously logged, leaving residual primary forest and newly developed secondary forest.

He tried to identify it using terminology, distribution and features from: Johannes Erritzøe, Clive F. Mann, Frederik P. Brammer and Richard A. Fuller. Cuckoos of the World, Helm, 2012. He also referred to Wells 1999, Handbook of the Birds of the World 2019, and other references.

For this Cuculus Cuckoos, the possibilities are Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus) and Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus). Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) can be excluded as it does not reach far south enough while Sunda Cuckoo (Cuculus lepidus) is confined to the highlands in Peninsular Malaysia. The possibilities can be narrowed down to Oriental and Indian Cuckoos. These two cuckoos can be differentiate as follows:

Features seen in bird Oriental Cuckoo Indian Cuckoo
Bill – upper mandible and tip balck; lower mandible green-yellow, brighter at base Similar Similar
Large, bright yellow eye ring Yellow-grey or grey Yellow
Wings – brown tinge in bright light and after image processing. But can look grey in other light and pre-processing. Grey-brown Dark grey
Tail (dorsum) – darkening of terminal portion but hard to clearly see white at the tip. Broad, diffuse  subterminal tail black band, tipped white Blackish-grey with variable white spots. White tips especially seen from under tail

According to Amar: “I have seen the Indian Cuckoo in the past and this bird overall did not look like one (jizz). I think it is an Oriental Cuckoo. Appreciate any opinions and clarification. More images (including high resolution) and frontal views possible if requested.”

1. Dr David Wells when consulted, responded: “This is the Oriental Cuckoo; note the upper surface tail pattern.” However, on 5th March 2019 Dr Wells added: “Have had another, longer look at your cuckoo. I was wrong and everyone else is right – it is Indian and not Oriental. I had missed the (now obvious) dark sub-terminal tail band (and upper body is indeed a little too bronzy). Re. the name ‘Oriental’, I still use that for all the migratory populations as I am not (yet) convinced of the species-level split between optatus and saturatus. Situation suspected to be particularly interesting on Taiwan.”

2. Mohd Syafiq responded with the following: “A short paragraph on Indian Cuckoo, from AlanJ (2012) pg. 201… Broad blackish subterminal band on white tipped brownish tail and dark brown upperparts together with greyish green orbital skin separate it from Oriental Cuckoo at close range or in the hand. Otherwise separated by call.

“The resident population occurs principally above 900m … but has been recorded on rare occasions at low elevations…. Migratory populations tend to frequent low elevations. The resident calls intensely during the breeding season from January-July.

“I believe the bird was silent (hence from the preceding paragraph not resident, but migrant, with the assumption that the Ulu Kinta FR is below 900m. And since the cuckoo shows a clear yellow orbital skin, my guess is, Oriental Cuckoo.”

3. A very reliable ornithologist (prefers to remain anonymous) responded on March 2019,: “This one to me is clearly an Indian Cuckoo:

  1. Note that this is an adult, judging by the absence of any fringing/barring on the upperparts. I would say adult male.
  2. The uppertail clearly has a broad blackish terminal/subterminal band – more contrasting on the visible outer tail feathers. There may have been white tips to the tail but the tail tips are clearly worn and white parts of feathers tend to be weaker and wear off more easily.
  3. There is more contrast between the grey of the head and the brown of the remaining upperparts which is indicative of Indian.
  4. I don’t know where this idea of ‘greyish green’ orbital skin in Indian Cuckoo comes from but all the photos of Indian Cuckoo clearly show a yellow orbital ring, so that does not differentiate the two species.
  5. The undertail pattern with single broad dark subterminal band on all feathers with more white on the rest of the undertail is also right for Indian.”

4. Clive Mann (Johannes Erritzøe, Clive F. Mann, Frederik P. Brammer and Richard A. Fuller. Cuckoos of the World, Helm, 2012) responded to say that he is of the opinion that this cuckoo is an Indian Cuckoo:

(1) the general bronze-brown appearance of the upperparts, and

(2) the wide white bands on the undertail

Amar responded: “Yes this was seen in the lowlands and no calls were heard and it was a migrant. Note that the highlands resident is now called the Sunda Cuckoo (Cuculus lepidus) – (Cuckoos of the World, Helm, 2012). Not sure if C. s. optatus or C. s. saturatus. Handbook of the Birds of the World 2019 says “Race optatus differs from nominate in that adult usually has slightly broader black barring on breast to belly, and extending to vent…”

“Furthermore, Clive Mann (Johannes Erritzøe, Clive F. Mann, Frederik P. Brammer and Richard A. Fuller, authors of Cuckoos of the World, Helm, 2012) are of the opinion that this cuckoo is an Indian Cuckoo based on the following: (a) the general bronze-brown appearance of the upperparts, and (b) the wide white bands on the under-tail.”

The verdict? It is an Indian Cuckoo after all. However, Amar is unsure if C. s. optatus or C. s. saturatus as Handbook of the Birds of the World (2019) says “Race optatus differs from nominate in that adult usually has slightly broader black barring on breast to belly, and extending to vent…”


Follow YC Wee:

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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