Birdwatchers scout for ‘harbinger of monsoon'

Pied Crested Cuckoo— Photo: Special Arrangement

Pied Crested Cuckoo— Photo: Special Arrangement  

As monsoon clouds gather over the country, birders are scouting for Pied Crested Cuckoo, the “harbinger of monsoon,” to correlate its presence with the annual showers.

Folklore has it that the migrant species appears in many parts of the country pronouncing the imminent arrival of monsoon. Bird enthusiasts, under the auspices of MigrantWatch, a citizen science initiative of the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, are out in the field looking for the bird to scientifically draw conclusions on the invisible relation between the bird and rain drops.

The cuckoo is a mynah-sized black and white bird with a long tail. Its upper half is black, including the crest and white below. It has a white round patch in the middle of the wings and tip of the tail.

Loud metallic calls

Renowned ornithologist Hugh Whistler reported way back in 1928 that the “species makes a sudden appearance in many areas of central and northern India in May last week or early June, proclaiming the imminent arrival of monsoon with its unmistakably loud metallic calls.”

Later, several others noticed the intriguing connection between the bird and rain though no comprehensive analysis was carried out, ornithologists said.

“The Pied Cuckoo campaign, which is in its fourth year, attempts to record the sightings and correlate it with monsoon data available with the India Meteorological Department,” Head of the MigrantWatch Suhel Quader said.

500 sightings so far

“Birdwatchers are asked to record the first sighting of the bird, the locality and the timing, which will be entered into online data base. Around 500 sightings have been recorded so far,” Dr. Quader said.

The species has been categorised as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The BirdLife International has reported that the “global population size has not been quantified, but the species is reported to be generally common, or at least not uncommon. The population is suspected to be stable in the absence of evidence for any declines or substantial threats,” the fact file of the organisation said.

Based on the data collected since 2007, the migrant species were first reported in the third week of May in the west and the northeast parts, according to the MigrantWatch database. As monsoon reached Andamans, it said, the early birds appeared in many parts of North India.

“More and more birds are subsequently seen across the west, north and east. By the time the monsoon reaches Kerala — in June first week — Pied Cuckoos are everywhere, except perhaps the extreme west and north-west,” says the database.

Kerala scenario

“A bird of the open country and villages, the Pied Crested Cuckoo is considered as a breeding visitor in Kerala. Its presence has been reported from Wayanad, Kannur, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Thrissur, Alapuzha, Idukki, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts,” said P.O. Nameer, Kerala coordinator of the Indian Bird Conservation Network.

“Kerala has a breeding population of Pied Crested Cuckoo as is evidenced by couple of breeding records from Wayanad and Thiruvananthapuram. It is also probable that the cuckoos seen in the State during monsoon belong to the monsoon migrant race of the bird,” he said.

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