In Our Backyard Environment

Rain catcher: on Jacobin Cuckoo

The Jacobin Cuckoo heralds the monsoon in north India

The Jacobin Cuckoo is one lucky bird indeed. At least according to Indian myth. Also known as the Pied Cuckoo or Chatak, this bird heralds the onset of the monsoon in India.

Being an agricultural economy the rainy season is considered one of the most auspicious seasons in the country. And so, the Pied Cuckoo in North and Central India is a welcome sight.

It is a bird with black and white plumage (pied) with a fancy crest on the head. Its scientific name is Clamator jacobinus. The genus ‘Clamator’ literally translates to being a shouter, a bird which is quite vocal, so you’ll hear yourself surrounded by the calls close to the monsoon. The word ‘jacobinus’ relates to pied birds.

There are two populations of the Pied Cuckoo in India. One is a resident in the southern part of the country. The other, according to tracking by birders, makes its way to North and Central India from Africa by crossing the Arabian Sea, along with the monsoon winds. When the monsoon arrives in all its majesty, its sighting also spreads widely.

The bird is primarily arboreal, which means that it mostly lives on trees but often forages for food in low bushes, and sometimes even on the ground. Considering its arboreal nature, it prefers forests, well-wooded areas and also bushes in semi-arid regions. These birds are primarily insectivores and feed on grasshoppers, beetles and are also often seen feeding on fruits and berries from trees.

The species, like all cuckoos, is a brood parasite. It lays its eggs in nests that belong to other birds, preferring similar-sized birds like babblers and bulbuls, as their ‘hosts’. The hosts are often distracted by male cuckoos, and the females quickly lay their similar-sized and coloured eggs into the hosts’ nests. The hosts then take care of the eggs and the chicks that hatch from them, as their own. The parasitic chicks are fed by the hosts and then leave the host parents once they are ready to be on their own.

A few years ago, birdwatchers set out to test the truth behind whether the bird does signal the coming of the monsoon. We began a monitoring process, collecting data around bird sightings, and other habits. This is being documented online on, an Ivy-League initiative for birdwatchers all around the world.

A large number of birdwatchers reported the sighting of the Pied Cuckoo on the online documentation forum, and when these dates of sightings were compared to the monsoon's arrival, as available with the Indian Meteorological Department, the results were fairly clear. Pied Cuckoos did indeed arrive before the monsoon in most parts of central and northern India. In a few areas, it was also observed that wherever the monsoon was to arrive earlier than usual, the Pied Cuckoo also showed up a few days earlier. So the Chatak is not an old wives’ tale anymore.

To join a trail in Mangar, Haryana this Sunday and spot the Jacobin Cuckoo, email

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl about Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He formerly led a programme at WWF India as a naturalist, and is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds in the region

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 9:02:18 AM |

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