The Plaintive Cuckoo inhabits forest edge, open woodland, scrub, grassland, farmland, parks and gardens. It feeds on invertebrates. It is normally solitary and is often difficult to see.
It is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of cisticolas, prinias and tailorbirds. The eggs are similar to those of the host species but are larger. Small birds often mob the cuckoo to drive it away from their nests.