Common cuckoo

The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, Cuculiformes, which includes the roadrunners, the anis and the coucals.

This species is a widespread summer migrant to Europe and Asia, and winters in Africa. It is a brood parasite, which means it lays eggs in the nests of other bird species, particularly of dunnocks, meadow pipits, and reed warblers. Although its eggs are larger than those of its hosts, the eggs in each type of host nest resemble the host's eggs. The adult too is a mimic, in its case of the sparrowhawk; since that species is a predator, the mimicry gives the female time to lay her eggs without being seen to do so.

Common cuckoo
Cuculus canorus vogelartinfo chris romeiks CHR0791 cropped
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Cuculiformes
Family: Cuculidae
Genus: Cuculus
C. canorus
Binomial name
Cuculus canorus
Distribution of Cuculus canorus
Range of Cuculus canorus
Deep purple : Summer range (Breeding)
Pink : Winter range (Nonbreeding)


The species' binomial name is derived from the Latin cuculus (the cuckoo) and canorus (melodious; from canere, meaning to sing).[2] The cuckoo family gets its common name and genus name by onomatopoeia for the call of the male common cuckoo.[3] The English word "cuckoo" comes from the Old French cucu and it first appears about 1240 in the poem Sumer Is Icumen In - "Summer has come in / Loudly sing, Cuckoo!" in modern English.[4]

The scientific name is from Latin. Cuculus is "cuckoo" and canorus, "melodious ".[5]

There are four subspecies worldwide:[6]

Lifespan and demography

Although the common cuckoo's global population appears to be declining, it is classified of being of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is estimated that the species numbers between 25 million and 100 million individuals worldwide, with around 12.6 million to 25.8 million of those birds breeding in Europe.[1] The maximum recorded lifespan of a common cuckoo in the United Kingdom is 6 years, 11 months and 2 days.[2]


Cuculus canorus vogelartinfo
Common cuckoo in flight

The common cuckoo is 32–34 centimetres (13–13 in) long from bill to tail (with a tail of 13–15 centimetres (5.1–5.9 in) and a wingspan of 55–60 centimetres (22–24 in).[3] The legs are short.[7] It is greyish with a slender body and long tail and can be mistaken for a falcon in flight, where the wingbeats are regular. During the breeding season, common cuckoos often settle on an open perch with drooped wings and raised tail.[7] There is a rufous colour morph, which occurs occasionally in adult females but more often in juveniles.[3]

Eurasian Cuckoo Rongli East Sikkim India 10.04.2016
A Eurasian Cuckoo (C. c. bakeri) from Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary in East Sikkim, India.

All adult males are slate-grey; the grey throat extends well down the bird's breast with a sharp demarcation to the barred underparts.[8] The iris, orbital ring, the base of the bill and feet are yellow.[7] Grey adult females have a pinkish-buff or buff background to the barring and neck sides, and sometimes small rufous spots on the median and greater coverts and the outer webs of the secondary feathers.[8]

Rufous morph adult females have reddish-brown upperparts with dark grey or black bars. The black upperpart bars are narrower than the rufous bars, as opposed to rufous juvenile birds, where the black bars are broader.[8]

Common cuckoos in their first autumn have variable plumage. Some have strongly-barred chestnut-brown upperparts, while others are plain grey. Rufous-brown birds have heavily barred upperparts with some feathers edged with creamy-white. All have whitish edges to the upper wing-coverts and primaries. The secondaries and greater coverts have chestnut bars or spots. In spring, birds hatched in the previous year may retain some barred secondaries and wing-coverts.[8] The most obvious identification features of juvenile common cuckoos are the white nape patch and white feather fringes.[7]

Common cuckoos moult twice a year: a partial moult in summer and a complete moult in winter.[8] Males weigh around 130 grams (4.6 oz) and females 110 grams (3.9 oz).[2] The common cuckoo looks very similar to the Oriental cuckoo, which is slightly shorter-winged on average.[8]

Mimicry in adult

European Cuckoo Mimics Sparrowhawk
Cuckoo adult (top) mimics sparrowhawk, giving female time to lay eggs parasitically

A study using stuffed bird models found that small birds are less likely to approach common cuckoos that have barred underparts similar to the Eurasian sparrowhawk, a predatory bird. Eurasian reed warblers were found more aggressive to cuckoos that looked less hawk-like, meaning that the resemblance to the hawk helps the cuckoo to access the nests of potential hosts.[9] Other small birds, great tits and blue tits, showed alarm and avoided attending feeders on seeing either (mounted) sparrowhawks or cuckoos; this implies that the cuckoo's hawklike appearance functions as protective mimicry, whether to reduce attacks by hawks or to make brood parasitism easier.[10]

Hosts attack cuckoos more when they see neighbors mobbing cuckoos.[11] The existence of the two plumage morphs in females may be due to frequency-dependent selection if this learning applies only to the morph that hosts see neighbors mob. In an experiment with dummy cuckoos of each morph and a sparrowhawk, reed warblers were more likely to attack both cuckoo morphs than the sparrowhawk, and even more likely to mob a certain cuckoo morph when they saw neighbors mobbing that morph, decreasing the reproductive success of that morph and selecting for the less common morph.[11]


Common cuckoo song, Kaluga region, Russia

The male's song, goo-ko, is usually given from an open perch. During the breeding season the male typically gives this vocalisation with intervals of 1–1.5 seconds, in groups of 10–20 with a rest of a few seconds between groups. The female has a loud bubbling call.[3] The song starts as a descending minor third early in the year in April, and the interval gets wider, through a major third to a fourth as the season progresses, and in June the cuckoo "forgets its tune" and may make other calls such as ascending intervals. Also the cuckoo seems to have a form of absolute pitch as it tends to sing in the key of C.[12] The wings are drooped when calling intensely and when in the vicinity of a potential female, the male often wags its tail from side to side or the body may pivot from side to side.[13]

Distribution and habitat

Essentially a bird of open land, the common cuckoo is a widespread summer migrant to Europe and Asia, and winters in Africa. Birds arrive in Europe in April and leave in September.[7]

The common cuckoo has also occurred as a vagrant in countries including Barbados, the United States, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Indonesia, Palau, Seychelles, Taiwan and China.[1]


Food and feeding

The common cuckoo's diet consists of insects, with hairy caterpillars, which are distasteful to many birds, being a specialty of preference.[14] It also occasionally eats eggs and chicks.[15]


Reed warbler cuckoo
This Eurasian reed warbler is raising a common cuckoo.

The common cuckoo is an obligate brood parasite; it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. At the appropriate moment, the hen cuckoo flies down to the host's nest, pushes one egg out of the nest, lays an egg and flies off. The whole process takes about 10 seconds. A female may visit up to 50 nests during a breeding season. Common cuckoos first breed at the age of two years.[2]

Egg mimicry

More than 100 host species have been recorded: meadow pipit, dunnock and Eurasian reed warbler are the most common hosts in northern Europe; garden warbler, meadow pipit, pied wagtail and European robin in central Europe; brambling and common redstart in Finland; and great reed warbler in Hungary.[3]

Female common cuckoos are divided into gentes – groups of females favouring a particular host species' nest and laying eggs that match those of that species in color and pattern. Evidence from mitochondrial DNA analyses suggest that each gene may have multiple independent origins due to parasitism of specific hosts by different ancestors.[16] One hypothesis for the inheritance of egg appearance mimicry is that this trait is inherited from the female only, suggesting that it is carried on the sex-determining W chromosome (females are WZ, males ZZ). A genetic analysis of gentes supports this proposal by finding significant differentiation in mitochondrial DNA, but not in microsatellite DNA.[16] A second proposal for the inheritance of this trait is that the genes controlling egg characteristics are carried on autosomes rather than just the W chromosome. Another genetic analysis of sympatric gentes supports this second proposal by finding significant genetic differentiation in both microsatellite DNA and mitochondrial DNA.[17] Considering the tendency for common cuckoo males to mate with multiple females and produce offspring raised by more than one host species, it appears as though males do not contribute to the maintenance of common cuckoo gentes. However, it was found that only nine percent of offspring were raised outside of their father's presumed host species.[17] Therefore, both males and females may contribute to the maintenance of common cuckoo egg mimicry polymorphism.[16][17] It is notable that most non-parasitic cuckoo species lay white eggs, like most non-passerines other than ground-nesters.

Cuckoo Eggs Mimicking Reed Warbler Eggs
Cuckoo eggs mimicking smaller eggs, in this case of reed warbler

As the common cuckoo evolves to lay eggs that better imitate the host's eggs, the host species adapts and is more able to distinguish the cuckoo egg. A study of 248 common cuckoo and host eggs demonstrated that female cuckoos that parasitised common redstart nests laid eggs that matched better than those that targeted dunnocks. Spectroscopy was used to model how the host species saw the cuckoo eggs. Cuckoos that target dunnock nests lay white, brown-speckled eggs, in contrast to the dunnock's own blue eggs. The theory suggests that common redstarts have been parasitised by common cuckoos for longer, and so have evolved to be better than the dunnocks at noticing the cuckoo eggs. The cuckoo, over time, has needed to evolve more accurate mimicking eggs to successfully parasitise the redstart. In contrast, cuckoos do not seem to have experienced evolutionary pressure to develop eggs which closely mimic the dunnock's, as dunnocks do not seem to be able to distinguish between the two species' eggs, despite the significant colour differences. The dunnock's inability to distinguish the eggs suggests that they have not been parasitised for very long, and have not yet evolved defences against it, unlike the redstart.[18]

Studies were made of 90 great reed warbler nests in central Hungary. There was an "unusually high" frequency of common cuckoo parasitism, with 64% of the nests parasitised. Of the nests targeted by cuckoos, 64% contained one cuckoo egg, 23% had two, 10% had three and 3% had four common cuckoo eggs. In total, 58% of the common cuckoo eggs were laid in nests that were multiply parasitised. When laying eggs in nests already parasitised, the female cuckoos removed one egg at random, showing no discrimination between the great reed warbler eggs and those of other cuckoos.[19]

It was found that nests close to cuckoo perches were most vulnerable: multiple parasitised nests were closest to the vantage points, and unparasitised nests were farthest away. Nearly all the nests "in close vicinity" to the vantage points were parasitised. More visible nests were more likely to be selected by the common cuckoos. Female cuckoos use their vantage points to watch for potential hosts and find it easier to locate the more visible nests while they are egg-laying.[20]

The great reed warblers' responses to the common cuckoo eggs varied: 66% accepted the egg(s); 12% ejected them; 20% abandoned the nests entirely; 2% buried the eggs. 28% of the cuckoo eggs were described as "almost perfect" in their mimesis of the host eggs, and the warblers rejected "poorly mimetic" cuckoo eggs more often. The degree of mimicry made it difficult for both the great reed warblers and the observers to tell the eggs apart.[19]

The egg measures 22 by 16 millimetres (0.87 in × 0.63 in) and weighs 3.2 grams (0.11 oz), of which 7% is shell.[2] Research has shown that the female common cuckoo is able to keep its egg inside its body for an extra 24 hours before laying it in a host's nest. This means the cuckoo chick can hatch before the host's chicks do, and it can eject the unhatched eggs from the nest. Scientists incubated common cuckoo eggs for 24 hours at the bird's body temperature of 40 °C (104 °F), and examined the embryos, which were found "much more advanced" than those of other species studied. The idea of 'internal incubation' was first put forward in 1802 and 18th and 19th Century egg collectors had reported finding that cuckoo embryos were more advanced than those of the host species.[21]


Cuculus canorus chick1
A chick of the common cuckoo in the nest of a tree pipit

The naked, altricial chick hatches after 11–13 days.[2] It methodically evicts all host progeny from host nests. It is a much larger bird than its hosts, and needs to monopolize the food supplied by the parents. The chick will roll the other eggs out of the nest by pushing them with its back over the edge. If the host's eggs hatch before the cuckoo's, the cuckoo chick will push the other chicks out of the nest in a similar way. At 14 days old, the common cuckoo chick is about three times the size of an adult Eurasian reed warbler.

The necessity of eviction behavior is unclear. One hypothesis is that competing with host chicks leads to decreased cuckoo chick weight, which is selective pressure for eviction behavior. An analysis of the amount of food provided to common cuckoo chicks by host parents in the presence and absence of host siblings showed that when competing against host siblings, cuckoo chicks did not receive enough food, showing an inability to compete.[29] Selection pressure for eviction behavior may come from cuckoo chicks lacking the correct visual begging signals, hosts distributing food to all nestlings equally, or host recognition of the parasite.[29][30] Another hypothesis is that decreased cuckoo chick weight is not selective pressure for eviction behavior. An analysis of resources provided to cuckoo chick in the presence and absence of host siblings also showed that the weights of cuckoos raised with host chicks were much smaller upon fledging than cuckoos raised alone, but within 12 days cuckoos raised with siblings grew faster than cuckoos raised alone and made up for developmental differences, showing a flexibility that would not necessarily select for eviction behavior.[31]

Species whose broods are parasitised by the common cuckoo have evolved to discriminate against cuckoo eggs but not chicks.[32] Experiments have shown that common cuckoo chicks persuade their host parents to feed them by making a rapid begging call that sounds "remarkably like a whole brood of host chicks." The researchers suggested that "the cuckoo needs vocal trickery to stimulate adequate care to compensate for the fact that it presents a visual stimulus of just one gape."[30] However, a cuckoo chick needs the amount of food of a whole brood of host nestlings, and it struggles to elicit that much from the host parents with only the vocal stimulus. This may reflect a tradeoff—the cuckoo chick benefits from eviction by receiving all the food provided, but faces a cost in being the only one influencing feeding rate. For this reason, cuckoo chicks exploit host parental care by remaining with the host parent longer than host chicks do, both before and after fledging.[30]

Common cuckoo chicks fledge about 17–21 days after hatching,[2] compared to 12–13 days for Eurasian reed warblers.[33] If the hen cuckoo is out-of-phase with a clutch of Eurasian reed warbler eggs, she will eat them all so that the hosts are forced to start another brood.

The common cuckoo's behaviour was firstly observed and described by Aristotle and the combination of behaviour and anatomical adaptation by Edward Jenner, who was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society in 1788 for this work rather than for his development of the smallpox vaccine. It was first documented on film in 1922 by Edgar Chance and Oliver G Pike, in their film 'The Cuckoo's Secret'.[34]

A study in Japan found that young common cuckoos probably acquire species-specific feather lice from body-to-body contact with other cuckoos between the time of leaving the nest and returning to the breeding area in spring. A total of 21 nestlings were examined shortly before they left their hosts' nests and none carried feather lice. However, young birds returning to Japan for the first time were found just as likely as older individuals to be lousy.[35]

As a biodiversity indicator

The occurrence of common cuckoo in Europe is a good surrogate for biodiversity facets including taxonomic diversity and functional diversity in bird communities, and better than the traditional use of top predators as bioindicators. The reason for this is the strong correlation between the cuckoo's host species richness and overall bird species richness, due to co-evolutionary relationships.[36] This may be useful for citizen science.[37]

In culture

Aristotle was aware of the old tale that cuckoos turned into hawks in winter. The tale was an explanation for their absence outside the summer season, later accepted by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History. Aristotle rejected the claim, observing in his History of Animals that cuckoos do not have the predators' talons or hooked bills. These Classical era accounts were known to the Early Modern English naturalist, William Turner.[10]

The 13th century medieval English round, "Sumer Is Icumen In", celebrates the cuckoo as a sign of spring, the beginning of summer, in the first stanza, and in the chorus:[38]

Middle English

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu

Modern English

Summer has arrived,
Sing loudly, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
Sing, cuckoo!

In England, William Shakespeare alludes to the common cuckoo's association with spring, and with cuckoldry,[39] in the courtly springtime song in his play Love's Labours Lost:[40][41]

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he: 
Cuckoo, cuckoo!" O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

In Europe, hearing the call of the common cuckoo is regarded as the first harbinger of spring. Many local legends and traditions are based on this. In Scotland, Gowk Stones (cuckoo stones) sometimes associated with the arrival of the first cuckoo of spring. "Gowk" is an old name for the common cuckoo in northern England,[42] derived from the harsh repeated "gowk" call the bird makes when excited.[3] The well-known cuckoo clock features a mechanical bird and is fitted with bellows and pipes that imitate the call of the common cuckoo.[43] Cuckoos feature in traditional rhymes, such as '"In April the cuckoo comes, In May she'll stay, In June she changes her tune, In July she prepares to fly, Come August, go she must,"' quoted Peggy. 'But you haven't said it all,' put in Bobby. '"And if the cuckoo stays till September, It's as much as the oldest man can remember."'[44]

Two English folk songs feature cuckoos. One usually called The Cuckoo starts:

The cuckoo is a fine bird and she sings as she flies,
She brings us good tidings, she tells us no lies.
She sucks little birds' eggs to make her voice clear,
And never sings cuckoo till the summer draws near[45]

The second, "The Cuckoo's Nest" is a song about a courtship, with the eponymous (and of course, non-existent) nest serving as a metaphor for the vulva and its tangled "nest" of pubic hair.

Some like a girl who is pretty in the face
and some like a girl who is slender in the waist
But give me a girl who will wriggle and will twist
At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo's nest...

...Me darling, says she, I can do no such thing
For me mother often told me it was committing sin
Me maidenhead to lose and me sex to be abused
So have no more to do with me cuckoo's nest[46]

One of the tales of the Wise Men of Gotham tells how they built a hedge round a tree in order to trap a cuckoo so that it would always be summer.[47]


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  8. ^ a b c d e f Baker, K. (1993). Identification Guide to European Non-Passerines. British Trust for Ornithology. pp. 273–275. ISBN 978-0-903793-18-6. BTO Guide 24.
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  12. ^ Barrett, M. (1897). "The Cuckoo's Notes". The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular. 38 (656): 697. doi:10.2307/3367962. JSTOR 3367962.
  13. ^ Ali, Salim; Ripley, S. Dillon (1981). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan together with those of Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Ceylon. Volume 3. Stone Curlews to Owls (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 209.
  14. ^ Barbaro, Luc; Battisti, Andrea (2011). "Birds as predators of the pine processionary moth (Lepidoptera: Notodontidae)". Biological Control. 56 (2): 107–114. doi:10.1016/j.biocontrol.2010.10.009.
  15. ^ Moksnes, Arne; Røskaft, Eivin; Hagen, Lise Greger; Honza, Marcel; Mørk, Cecilie; Olsen, Per H. (2000). "Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and host behaviour at Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus nests". Ibis. 142 (2): 247–258. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2000.tb04864.x.
  16. ^ a b c Gibbs, H. L.; Sorenson, M. D.; Marchetti, K.; Brooke, M. D.; Davies, N. B.; Nakamura, H. (2000). "Genetic evidence for female host-specific races of the common cuckoo". Nature. 407 (6801): 183–186. doi:10.1038/35025058. PMID 11001055.
  17. ^ a b c Fossoy, F.; Antonov, A.; Moksnes, A.; Roskfaft, E.; Vikan, J. R.; Moller, A. P.; Shykoff, J. A.; Stokke, B. G. (2011). "Genetic differentiation among sympatric cuckoohost races: Males matter". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 278 (1712): 1639–1645. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.2090. PMC 3081775. PMID 21068043.
  18. ^ Brennand, E. (24 March 2011). "Cuckoo in egg pattern 'arms race'". BBC News. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
  19. ^ a b Moskát, C.; Honza, M. (2002). "European Cuckoo Cuculus canorus parasitism and host's rejection behaviour in a heavily parasitized Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus population". Ibis. 144 (4): 614–622. doi:10.1046/j.1474-919X.2002.00085.x.
  20. ^ Moskát, C.; Honza, M. (2000). "Effect of nest and nest site characteristics on the risk of cuckoo Cuculus canorus parasitism in the great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus". Ecography. 23 (3): 335–341. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0587.2000.tb00289.x.
  21. ^ Moskvitch, K. (24 September 2010). "Extra incubation time lets cuckoo chicks pop out early". BBC News. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
  22. ^ Numerov, A. D. Inter-species and Intra-species brood parasitism in Birds. Voronezh: Voronezh University. 2003. 516 p. [In Russian] Нумеров А. Д. Межвидовой и внутривидовой гнездовой паразитизм у птиц. Воронеж: ФГУП ИПФ Воронеж. 2003. C. 38-40.
  23. ^ as group of subspecies Carduelis carduelis caniceps of European goldfinch here
  24. ^ The species is included in Emberiza bruniceps "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. Retrieved 2015-07-03.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) now
  25. ^ Turdus erythrogaster Vigors, Proc. Zool. Soc. London, 1831, p. 171.; Monticola erythrogastra Baker, Faun. Brit. Ind., 2, p. 170. This form is recognized as younger synonym of Monticola rufiventris (Jardine and Selby) [1]
  26. ^ Unknown name
  27. ^ There is the name Saxicola torquata sensu lato in the list, but now this species was split for three. In Western Siberia 25% of cuckoo's eggs (n=126) was found in the nests of Saxicola maura. The names changed according to this information. (Numerov, A. D. Order Cuculiformes. // Birds of Russia and adjacent countries. Moscow: Nauka. 1993. P. 212 [In Russian]).
  28. ^ The species is repeated twice in the list
  29. ^ a b Martín-Gálvez, D.; Soler, M.; Soler, J. J.; Martín-Vivaldi, M.; Palomino, J. J. (2005). "Food acquisition by common cuckoo chicks in rufous bush robin nests and the advantage of eviction behaviour". Animal Behaviour. 70 (6): 1313–1321. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2005.03.031.
  30. ^ a b c Davies, N. B.; Kilner, R. M.; Noble, D. G. (1998). "Nestling cuckoos, Cuculus canorus, exploit hosts with begging calls that mimic a brood". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 265 (1397): 673–678. doi:10.1098/rspb.1998.0346. PMC 1689031.
  31. ^ Geltsch, N.; Hauber, M. E.; Anderson, M. G.; Ban, M.; Moskát, C. (2012). "Competition with a host nestling for parental provisioning imposes recoverable costs on parasitic cuckoo chick's growth". Behavioural Processes. 90 (3): 378–383. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2012.04.002. PMID 22521709.
  32. ^ Davies, N. B.; de L. Brooke, M. (1989). "An experimental study of co-evolution between the Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, and its hosts. II. Host egg markings, chick discrimination and general discussion". Journal of Animal Ecology. 58 (1): 225–236. doi:10.2307/4996. JSTOR 4996.
  33. ^ Robinson, R. A. (2005). "Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus". BirdFacts: Profiles of Birds Occurring in Britain & Ireland. British Trust for Ornithology. BTO Research Report 407. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  34. ^ "Oliver Pike". WildFilmHistory. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  35. ^ de L. Brooke, M.; Nakamura, H. (1998). "The acquisition of host-specific feather lice by common cuckoos (Cuculus canorus)". Journal of Zoology. 244 (2): 167–173. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1998.tb00022.x.
  36. ^ Tryjanowski, P.; Morelli, F. (2015). "Presence of Cuckoo reliably indicates high bird diversity: A case study in a farmland area". Ecological Indicators. 55: 52–58. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.03.012.
  37. ^ Morelli, F.; Jiguet, F.; Reif, J.; Plexida, S.; Suzzi Valli, A.; Indykiewicz, P.; Šímová, S.; Tichit, M.; Moretti, M.; Tryjanowski, P. (2015). "Cuckoo and biodiversity: testing the correlation between species occurrence and bird species richness in Europe". Biological Conservation. 190: 123–132. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.06.003.
  38. ^ Wulstan, David (2000). "'Sumer Is Icumen In': A Perpetual Puzzle-Canon?". Plainsong and Medieval Music. 9 (1 (April)): 1–17. doi:10.1017/S0961137100000012.
  39. ^ "Cuckold". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  40. ^ Shakespeare, William. "Song: "When daisies pied and violets blue"". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  41. ^ Rhodes, Neil; Gillespie, Stuart (13 May 2014). Shakespeare And Elizabethan Popular Culture: Arden Critical Companion. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-4081-4362-9.
  42. ^ Lockwood, W. B. (1993). The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866196-2.
  43. ^ "Beginners Guide". Cuckoo Clock World. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  44. ^ Brazil, Angela (1915). A Terrible Tomboy. Project Gutenberg EBook #38619.
  45. ^ Palmer, Roy (ed); English Country Songbook; London; 1979
  46. ^ Traditional Songs website, Retrieved 2017/03/07
  47. ^ BBC Legacy web-page Retrieved 2017/03/08

Further reading

  • Wyllie, Ian (1981). The Cuckoo. London: B.T. Batsford.

External links

African cuckoo-hawk

The African cuckoo-hawk, or African baza, (Aviceda cuculoides) is a medium-sized raptor in the family Accipitridae so named because it resembles the common cuckoo, which is found in sub-Saharan Africa and along the eastern parts of Southern Africa. It prefers dense woodland and forest of either indigenous or exotic trees.

Black-billed cuckoo

The black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus) is a New World species in the Cuculidae (cuckoo) family. The scientific name is from Ancient Greek. The genus name kokkuzo, means to call like a common cuckoo, and erythropthalmus is from eruthros, "red" and ophthalmos, "eye".It is very similar and overlaps in range with the closely related yellow-billed cuckoo. A distinguishing characteristic of family Cuculidae is laying eggs in the nests of other birds. Although many cuckoos are obligate brood parasites, C. erythropthalmus often incubate their own chicks.

Bombus campestris

Bombus campestris is a very common cuckoo bumblebee found in most of Europe.

Brood parasite

Brood parasites are organisms that rely on others to raise their young. The strategy appears among birds, insects and some fish. The brood parasite manipulates a host, either of the same or of another species, to raise its young as if it were its own, using brood mimicry, for example by having eggs that resemble the host's (egg mimicry).

Brood parasitism relieves the parasitic parents from the investment of rearing young or building nests for the young, enabling them to spend more time on other activities such as foraging and producing further offspring. Bird parasite species mitigate the risk of egg loss by distributing eggs amongst a number of different hosts. As this behaviour damages the host, it often results in an evolutionary arms race between parasite and host as the pair of species coevolve.


Clamator is a genus of large brood-parasitic cuckoos with crests and graduated tails.

The genus was erected by German naturalist Johann Jakob Kaup in 1829 with the great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) as the type species. The name Clamator is Latin for "shouter" from clamare, "to shout".There are four species:

Clamator cuckoos are found in warmer parts of southern Europe and Asia, and in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. These are birds of warm open scrubby habitats, but some species are at least partially migratory, leaving for warmer and wetter areas in winter.These are large cuckoos, all at least 33 cm (13 in) long, with broad chestnut wings and long narrow tails. They are strikingly patterned with black, white and brown plumage. The sexes are similar but the juvenile plumages are distinctive. The two African species each also have two distinct colour morphs, light and dark.

All the Clamator cuckoos are brood parasites, which lay a single egg in the nests of medium sized hosts, such as magpies, starlings, shrikes, laughingthrushes, bulbuls and babblers, depending on location. Unlike the common cuckoo, neither the hen nor the hatched chick of Clamator species evict the host's eggs, but the host’s young often die because they cannot compete successfully with the cuckoo for food.

These are noisy birds, with persistent and loud calls. They feed on large insects, with hairy caterpillars, which are distasteful to many birds, being a speciality.


Coccyzus is a genus of cuckoos which occur in the Americas. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kokkuzo, which means to call like a common cuckoo. These include the lizard cuckoos formerly included in the genus Saurothera.


The cuckoos are a family of birds, Cuculidae, the sole taxon in the order Cuculiformes. The cuckoo family includes the common or European cuckoo, roadrunners, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis. The coucals and anis are sometimes separated as distinct families, the Centropodidae and Crotophagidae respectively. The cuckoo order Cuculiformes is one of three that make up the Otidimorphae, the other two being the turacos and the bustards.

The cuckoos are generally medium-sized slender birds. Most species live in trees, though a sizeable minority are ground-dwelling. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, with the majority of species being tropical. Some species are migratory. The cuckoos feed on insects, insect larvae and a variety of other animals, as well as fruit. Some species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other species, but the majority of species raise their own young.

Cuckoos have played a role in human culture for thousands of years, appearing in Greek mythology as sacred to the goddess Hera. In Europe, the cuckoo is associated with spring, and with cuckoldry, for example in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. In India, cuckoos are sacred to Kamadeva, the god of desire and longing, whereas in Japan, the cuckoo symbolises unrequited love.


Cuculus is a genus of cuckoos which has representatives in most of the Old World, although the greatest diversity is in tropical southern and southeastern Asia. The genus name is from Latin Cuculus, "cuckoo"The species in taxonomic order are:

Sulawesi cuckoo or Sulawesi hawk-cuckoo, Cuculus crassirostris

Red-chested cuckoo, Cuculus solitarius

Black cuckoo, Cuculus clamosus

Indian cuckoo, Cuculus micropterus

Common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus

African cuckoo, Cuculus gularis

Himalayan cuckoo, Cuculus saturatus

Oriental cuckoo, Cuculus optatus (formerly horsfieldi')

Sunda cuckoo, Cuculus lepidus

Lesser cuckoo, Cuculus poliocephalus

Madagascar cuckoo, Cuculus rochiiSome sources also include the pallid cuckoo in this genus, although there is disagreement about appropriate classification.The hawk-cuckoos are now placed in a separate genus, Hierococcyx, while the pallid cuckoo belongs in Cacomantis.

These birds are of variable size with slender bodies, long tails and strong legs. Most occur in open forests, but some prefer more open country. Several species are migratory.

These are vocal species, with persistent and loud calls. They feed on large insects, with hairy caterpillars, which are distasteful to many birds, being a speciality. One or two species will also take some fruit.

Cuculus cuckoos are brood parasites, that is, they lay a single egg in the nests of various passerine hosts. The best-known example is the European common cuckoo. The female cuckoo in each case replaces one of the host’s eggs with one of her own. The cuckoo egg hatches earlier than the host’s, and the chick grows faster; in most cases the cuckoo chick evicts the eggs or young of the host species.

Cuculus species lay coloured eggs to match those of their passerine hosts. Female cuckoos specialise in a particular host species (generally the species that raised them) and lay eggs that closely resemble the eggs of that host.

A species may consist of several gentes, with each gens specialising in a particular host. There is some evidence that the gentes are genetically different from one another though other authorities state that as female cuckoos mate with males of any gens, genes flow between gentes.

Edgar Chance

Edgar Percival Chance (1881–1955) was a British businessman, ornithologist and oologist who amassed a collection of 25,000 birds' eggs. He is noted for his pioneering studies on the parasitic breeding behaviour of the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus).

Eurasian reed warbler

The Eurasian reed warbler, or just reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) is an Old World warbler in the genus Acrocephalus. It breeds across Europe into temperate western Asia. It is migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa.

Eurasian rock pipit

The Eurasian rock pipit (Anthus petrosus), or just rock pipit, is a species of small passerine bird that breeds in western Europe on rocky coasts. It has streaked greyish-brown upperparts and buff underparts, and is similar in appearance to other European pipits. There are three subspecies, of which only the Fennoscandian form is migratory, wintering in shoreline habitats further south in Europe. The Eurasian rock pipit is territorial at least in the breeding season, and year-round where it is resident. Males will sometimes enter an adjacent territory to assist the resident in repelling an intruder, behaviour only otherwise known from the African fiddler crab.

Eurasian rock pipits construct a cup nest under coastal vegetation or in cliff crevices and lay four to six speckled pale grey eggs which hatch in about two weeks with a further 16 days to fledging. Although insects are occasionally caught in flight, the pipits feed mainly on small invertebrates picked off the rocks or from shallow water.

The Eurasian rock pipit may be hunted by birds of prey, infested by parasites such as fleas, or act as an involuntary host to the common cuckoo, but overall its population is large and stable, and it is therefore evaluated as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Garden warbler

The garden warbler (Sylvia borin) is a common and widespread small bird that breeds in most of Europe and in western Asia. It is a plain, long-winged and long-tailed typical warbler with brown upperparts and dull white underparts; the sexes are similar and juveniles resemble the adults. Its two subspecies differ only slightly and interbreed where their ranges overlap. Due to its lack of distinguishing features, this species can be confused with a number of other unstreaked warblers. The garden warbler's rich melodic song is similar to that of the blackcap, its closest relative, which competes with it for territory when nesting in the same woodland.

The preferred breeding habitat in Eurasia is open woodland with dense low cover for nesting; despite its name, gardens are rarely occupied by this small passerine bird. The clutch of four or five blotched cream or white eggs is laid in a robust cup-shaped nest built near the ground and concealed by dense vegetation. The eggs are incubated for 11–12 days. The chicks are altricial, hatching naked and with closed eyes, and are fed by both parents. They fledge about 10 days after hatching. Only about a quarter of young birds survive their first year. The garden warbler is strongly migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. A wide range of habitats are used in Africa, but closed forest and treeless Sahel are both shunned. Insects are the main food in the breeding season, although fruit predominates when birds are fattening prior to migration, figs being a particular favourite where available. These warblers have a mixed diet of insects and fruit in their African wintering grounds.

The garden warbler is hunted by Eurasian sparrowhawks and domestic cats, and its eggs and nestlings are taken by a variety of mammalian and avian predators. It may be host to various fleas, mites and internal parasites, and it is a host of the common cuckoo, a brood parasite. The large and fairly stable numbers and huge range of the garden warbler mean that it is classed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Despite a small population decline in much of its European range, the bird's breeding distribution is expanding northwards in Scandinavia.

Great spotted cuckoo

The great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes, which also includes the roadrunners, the anis and the coucals. The genus name clamator is Latin for "shouter" from clamare, "to shout". The specific glandarius is derived from Latin glans, glandis, "acorn".It is widely spread throughout Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. It is a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of corvids, in particular the Eurasian magpie.

Hodgson's hawk-cuckoo

The Hodgson's hawk-cuckoo (Hierococcyx nisicolor), also known as the whistling hawk-cuckoo is a species of cuckoo found in north-eastern India, Myanmar, southern China and southeast Asia.

Hodgson's hawk-cuckoo is a brood parasite. The chick evicts bona fide residents of the parasitized nest, thus becoming the sole occupant. Under normal circumstances, this would reduce the provisioning rate as the foster parents see only one gape. To counteract this, the Hodgson's hawk-cuckoo displays gape-coloured patches of skin under its wing to simulate additional gapes; the strategy appears to increase the provisioning rate. This is in contrast to other species of cuckoo (such as the common cuckoo) which increase the rapidity of high pitched hunger calls to increase the provisioning rate.

Although the skin patch is not gape shaped, it is convincing: host parents occasionally place food into the patch.

Hodgson's hawk-cuckoo was formerly regarded as having four subspecies. The Philippine hawk-cuckoo is now commonly treated as a separate species, H. pectoralis. The remaining forms are also now split into three species: Malaysian hawk-cuckoo (H. fugax), Hodgson's hawk-cuckoo (H. nisicolor) and rufous hawk-cuckoo or northern hawk-cuckoo (H. hyperythrus).

The common name commemorates the British naturalist Brian Houghton Hodgson.

Pound Green

Pound Green is a hamlet in Upper Arley, Worcestershire, England. It has a number of tourist landmarks such as Ye Olde New Inn and a village hall that also serves Button Oak village.

Pound Green Common is an area of common land, west of the village which was the location of Edgar Chance's studies of the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) which included the first ever photography of a cuckoo laying her egg.

Tweet of the Day

Tweet of the Day is a British radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on weekdays at 05.58am from Monday to Friday. In the current format, the Sunday episode, (08.58am), no longer features birdsong, instead the presenter explains their reasons for 'curating' the coming week's broadcasts, selected from all 3 series [1].

The format of an episode is a short programme of 90 seconds, the original series featuring the song or sounds of a British bird, visitor, or bird chorus and a few facts about each bird described by a BBC wildlife presenter.The first episode was broadcast on 6 May 2013 and featured the song of the male common cuckoo presented by David Attenborough. The series won the Broadcasting Press Guild's award for radio programme of the year in 2014. The series was scheduled across a year, by the end of which 266 different bird sounds had been featured. The original series was repeated before Series Two.

A follow-up series Tweet of the Day: World Birds, featured a mix of worldwide and British bird species.

A third series features very little birdsong, but instead features a guest describing the effect a particular species' calls has had on them personally. The current broadcasts are two week batches of repeats.

Water pipit

The water pipit (Anthus spinoletta) is a small passerine bird which breeds in the mountains of Southern Europe and Southern Asia eastwards to China. It is a short-distance migrant; many birds move to lower altitudes or wet open lowlands in winter.

The water pipit in breeding plumage has greyish-brown upperparts, weakly streaked with darker brown, and pale pink-buff underparts fading to whitish on the lower belly. The head is grey with a broad white supercilium ("eyebrow"), and the outer tail feathers are white. In winter, the head is grey-brown, the supercilium is duller, the upperparts are more streaked, and the underparts are white, streaked lightly with brown on the breast and flanks. There are only minor differences between the three subspecies, the sexes are almost identical, and young birds resemble adults. The water pipit's song is delivered from a perch or in flight, and consists of four or five blocks, each consisting of about six repetitions of a different short note.

Water pipits construct a cup-like nest on the ground under vegetation or in cliff crevices and lay four to six speckled grey-ish white eggs, which hatch in about two weeks with a further 14–15 days to fledging. Although pipits occasionally catch insects in flight, they feed mainly on small invertebrates picked off the ground or vegetation, and also some plant material.

The water pipit may be hunted by birds of prey, infested by parasites such as fleas, or act as an involuntary host to the common cuckoo, but overall its population is large and stable, and it is therefore evaluated as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Yellow-billed cuckoo

The yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is a cuckoo. Common folk-names for this bird in the southern United States are rain crow and storm crow. These likely refer to the bird's habit of calling on hot days, often presaging rain or thunderstorms.

The genus name is from Ancient Greek kokkuzo, which means to call like a common cuckoo, and americana means "of America".

In the arts

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