Cuckoo

Cuculus canorus

32-34cm

Appearance

This is a slender bird with pointed wings, a long tail, and a short bill that's curved slightly. The head is small and the legs are short. Most females and males are similar, though some females do show a variance. Males and most females are blue-grey on the neck, head, breast and upperparts, while the underparts are white but are barred with black. The white-tipped tail is rounded and the eye is yellow. Varied females are brownish with barring on the upperparts, head and neck. The underparts are white with dark barring. Juveniles resemble this female but they have a white section on the nape.

Habitat

Avoids heavily populated human areas, though suburbs and parklands are not off limits. Ideal habitat is reedbeds, moorland, woodland and farmland.

Character

Quite an inconspicuous bird. May perch with tail held up while the wings sag slightly on either side. When not breeding,they're usually solitary birds. Has parasitic breeding behaviour. It watches a nest of another songbird species, and when it's time to lay, it pushes out an egg from the nest and replaces it with its own. The host bird incubates the egg, and after hatching the chick pushes out the other eggs or chicks; it is fed by the host bird until it can fly.

Food

Mainly eats caterpillars, but also eats beetles, flies, sawflies and ants. Also consumes eggs and small young of other birds, sometimes from the nest that plays host to its own egg.

Breeding

Often makes breeding territories where host species are in abundance. See 'Character' for parasitic breeding behaviours. As many as 25 eggs can be laid in a season, and the colour of these usually matches those of the host bird. The Cuckoo egg is incubated by the host for 12 days; when it hatches it pushes other chicks or eggs out of the nest, and the host continues to feed the chick for approximately 3 weeks.

Population

A summer visitor to the region, and birds seen in the late summer and beginning of autumn are usually juveniles. Majority of birds who breed in the region arrive in April and depart in August. There are approximately 16 000 pairs in the UK and 6000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The privilege of hearing the first Cuckoo in early spring is rare since populations are diminishing. The best places to hear and see this bird are wetlands with beds of reeds, heathland or expansive countryside. May is the best time to search, as males cease singing beyond June.

Voice

The male's call is well-known and the species is named after it: 'cuck-oo'. The female has a warbling cackle.
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