Saturday, November 26, 2011

It’s an Indian Cuckoo! (myth of the “durian bird” finally cracked!)

See also: It’s durian season!

Back in 2009, I posted this entry entitled “It’s durian season!” and wrote a bit about the elusive “durian bird” which I had been trying to photograph since forever and a half.

Well, yesterday as I was writing on my laptop at home, I heard the bird’s unmistakeable loud calls “kang kang kang koook - kang kang kang kook” and quickly grabbed the Nikon + 70-300mm and went outside to look for it.


At first, I couldn’t locate it but I knew it was perched high up our tallest durian tree. As it called out again, I spotted it, partially hidden by leaves and branches. I’d been trying for so long to get a photo of this bird so imagine my excitement! Upon spotting it with the zoom lens, I knew immediately it was some kind of cuckoo.

Actually, I’ve been asking my birding friends forever about this bird but none of them knew what it was (which was really surprising and a bit frustrating too since they seem like hardcore birders, and this bird is often heard calling through the jungles, orchards and even some gardens). So I was really pleased with myself for having identified it finally after so many years! It’s the Indian cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus).


Now, some of you may regard this a fairly common bird; perhaps you’ve spotted it several times yourself but I'll tell you why I was so excited to finally photograph/identify it in a bit...

Anyway, afraid that it would suddenly fly off, I didn’t try to get a better view before snapping a series of shots. Then I shifted to a better spot, changed some settings on camera and snapped about a hundred photos of this bird! LOL I was hoping to get some useable shots since our tree is really tall and the bird was so high up it was beyond “sharp and clear” reach of the 70-300mm (these photos are all highly cropped photos).

This is a really LOUD bird, its calls can go on and on throughout the evening, sometimes well into the night. This bird I photographed was cleaning and preening its feathers in the light rain, stopping to call out every now and then.

Refer my 2009 posting “It’s durian season!”  where I mentioned a local myth about this bird. It’s sometimes called the “durian bird” or “liulian chiao” in Hokkien because some people believe it has the power to make durian trees flower and fruit! Each time a bird lands in a tall durian tree and starts to call, that particular tree is bound to bear lots of fruits come fruiting season. This believe came about from local observation over several generations. In fact, my father told me of a Bidayuh poem that was inspired by this very bird! It goes something like this:

Kang-kang-kang kuk,
Nimang bua’ tibaga,
Pe’on mu bojang dunuk,
Masih mu karik kaya

And here’s the rough translation:
Kang-kang-kang kuk,(call of the Indian cuckoo)
Nimang bua’ tibaga,Singing (a song of praise) to the copper fruit (“copper fruit” could be referring to durian?)Pe’on mu bojang dunuk,Though you’re limping on one footMasih mu karik kayaStill you search for wealth (food)

I had long suspected the myth came about from the fact that the bird just likes tall trees and happen to visit durian trees because they’re the commonest of tall (cultivated) trees in the Kuching countryside! And because the bird’s breeding season happens to coincide with the durian flowering season (usually end of year or start of rainy season), people thought that it had the “magical powers” to cause durian trees to flower and fruit! Hence, durian bird! :))


Like other cuckoos, the Indian cuckoo is a parasitic nester. You’ve probably watched how cuckoos lay their eggs in another bird’s nest on TV, right? It’s usually just a single egg which hatches sooner than the host bird’s own eggs. The young chick then pushes out the other eggs and takes over the entire nest. The host bird continues to feed the chick like its own even as the young cuckoo grows to a size much bigger than the host parent.

This is a bird I’d always known as the “durian bird” since I was a little kid. So having finally identified it, I must admit, it has lost much of its mysteriousness. It’s not as exciting anymore when we hear it calling haha. However, I will end with this funny but true tale… believe what you will…

About a week ago, we first heard this bird calling (this season) briefly but loudly on our tallest durian tree. The next morning, we looked up the tree and found this:


TWO durian fruits on one of the lower branches!!! We had been keeping an eye out for fruits on this particular tree for quite sometime but never found any but after the bird visited our tree, we found two the very next morning! It was as if the fruits “magically” appeared!

We’ll be having some yummy durians a few weeks from now. :)))

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