Plaintive Cuckoo in Singapore

The Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) is an uncommon resident in Singapore. In the past it was called the Malayan Brain Fever Bird. The Malay name is “Burung Anak Mati” which translate to dead child bird. All these names refer to the mournful sounding call that the adult male use to attract the female bird.

Although listed as uncommon, the male can be rather easily found during the breeding season if one recognises its call. And it can be found in many areas in Singapore. It is a brood parasite, with hosts reported including ioras, prinias, cisticolas and tailorbirds.

Below are some of my encounters with the species.

Plaintive Cuckoo
(A male at Tuas Grassland. Contrary to what some guide books mentioned, which is that the Plaintive Cuckoo is separated from the similar looking Rusty-breasted Cuckoo by the lack of yellow eye-ring, here this plaintive does have a yellow eye-ring. The difference is that it’s eye-ring is rather incomplete.)


Plaintive Cuckoo
(A young hepatic morph female at Tuas Grassland, seen with the above-mentioned male.)


Plaintive Cuckoo
(A male at Lorong Halus. In contrast to the Tuas Grassland cuckoos, this one was found in a wooded habitat. It lacks a prominent eye-ring, which is more usual for the species in Singapore.)


Plaintive Cuckoo
(A male at Pulau Punggol Barat, another grassland. It was found calling for a mate.)


Plaintive Cuckoo
(The same bird as above showing its back and attractive tail feathers.)


Plaintive Cuckoo
(A male seen calling at Jelutong Tower, which is a forested area with no grass in sight. Its brood host must be different from the ones in grassland, as the small bird species in both habitat are different. Was seen being chased away by bulbuls.)

So how does the call of the male actually sound like? I have managed to take a video of the same bird shown above. You can judge for yourself about the plaintive-ness of the call.

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