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Jacobin Cuckoo

The Jacobin Cuckoo or Pied Cuckoo is a member of cuckoo order of birds that is found in Asia and Africa. In India, it has been considered a harbinger of Monsoon rains. It is locally known as chataka Pakshi. Chataka means eagerly awaiting the rain. The zoological name of this bird is clamator Jacobinus. This bird can only be seen in Summer Season because it drinks rain water to quench its thirst… It can survive without drinking water for many days.

Male and female look alike. Its identification marks are pied, black crest and a white wing patch. A summer visitor, it is found in areas with shrubs, gardens and forests. The bird is medium sized. They are very Vocal during breeding season. The call is a ringing series of whistling notes “Piu Piu”. This bird is distributed south of Sahara in Africa and South of Himalayas in India. It is also found in Sri Lanka and Parts of Myanmar.

The species is a brood parasite and in India the host is mainly species of babblers. The colour of the eggs matches those of the host. The eggs are slightly larger than those of the common babbler. Other hosts include the red vented bulbul. The eggs are white in colour. Eggs are laid hurriedly in the morning into the nest of the host. In Africa the males distract the host while the female lays the egg. Multiple eggs may be laid. But two young cuckoos were found fledge successfully in Suveral occasions. A pied cuckoo chick was observed to be fed by four jungle babblers. The skin of young brids darkens from pink to purple brown within two days of hatching these cuckoos feed on insects including hairy caterpillars that are picked up from near or on the ground. This bird sometimes feeds on fruits.

In culture this species is widely mentioned in Ancient Indian poetry as the chataka. It has a beak atop its head and it thirsts for the rains. The poet kalidasa used it in his meghadootam as a metaphor for deep yearning.

In Bengal the bird associated with the chataka of Sanskrit was the common iora unlike the Jacobian Cuckoo Suggested by the European Orientalists Bengal chataks also refer to Skylarks, which are also crested.

Why do chataka birds drink rainwater? In culture this bird is mentioned by saints as an example of ideal spiritual seeker who ignores all things worldly and quenches its thirsts by drinking directly from the heavens above. When it gets thirsty, prays the rain God for rain and it is believed that its call is  always answered. This clearly indicates that the heavenly relations can never be measured by distance.

Rain water may be formed above in the Sky to drop on earth, where a migratory bird, unique creature of India and earth, waits for days or months to quench its thirst. It does not drink any other water, not from the streams, rivers or collected rainwater despite thirsty.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

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Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published in Kolkata.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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