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Cuckoo!...Cuckoo!...Where are Yoo? Where are Yoo?

Updated on May 1, 2012

One of the world's best known birds, the Cuckoo

Grey Wagtail: Liked by Cuckoo
Grey Wagtail: Liked by Cuckoo
Young Cuckoo being fed by dimunitive host
Young Cuckoo being fed by dimunitive host
Robin  another cuckoo target
Robin another cuckoo target
Roadrunner One of my favorite birds and a relative of the Cuckoo
Roadrunner One of my favorite birds and a relative of the Cuckoo
Adult Common Cuckoo
Adult Common Cuckoo

Oh, you're nasty, but we miss you!

People in Britain have always associated the cuckoo with the coming of spring. It’s hypnotic mating call was heard anywhere there was woodland. The bird seemed able to use the talents of a ventriloquist as well, it was so hard to pin down the direction of the unique sound, and the bird itself was much more rarely seen. It was always there, however, and we were all charmed by its chorus, as well as horrified by the habits of the young cuckoos. It must be universally known that the cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds and when the baby cuckoo hatches it soon throws the other eggs, or the legitimate youngsters, out to die while it gets all the attention of the parents.

For some 10 years, though, the cuckoo seems to have deserted Britain, so rare have their evocative cries become; in fact, they are down by at least 60% over pre-1970 figures, and this figure has steepened recently.

It is not just the cuckoo, of course, most of the visitors who brought the joys of spring to the countryside are also down, some in greater numbers that the cuckoo: the Spotted Flycatcher, for example, is down by a numbing 85%.

The species are just vanishing from the surface of the Earth!

The birds winter in Kenya and Ethiopia. The male is responsible for the bell-like tones, which we like, because it is so easy to imitate; indeed, it sounds like the human voice.

It is so entrenched in British folk lore, that it’s arrival inspired the oldest song in in English, author anonymous, “Sumer is icumen in” (“And loudly sings cuckoo). Aristotle mused over it, and Shakespeare used the bird in King Lear.

The cuckoo is hardly the most beautiful bird to grace our skies and woodlands. It is blue and grey in color, of medium size - somewhat larger that a thrush or blackbird, with a large, 22 inch wingspan. It’s rapid flight is rather hawk-like and the bird is often confused with a bird-of-prey, probably a trait developed by the cuckoo to help it invade other bird‘s nests.

I mentioned its predatory and rather awful parasitic habits - it is know as a “brood parasite” amongst ornithologists.

It is hard to find another creature on the planet which both charms us and abhors us in equal measure and may point to the hypocrisy of man.

Perhaps the Koala is another, the Aussie marsupial we coo over. Actually, they are stupid and can vicious by nature. And the bear, of course…you might love the toy. But few would consider squeezing “Bruin” in the wild.

There are actually two cuckoos making their presence felt in Europe: ours and the Great Spotted Cuckoo, found in the Mediterranean areas, which is parasitic on the Magpies (and detested by them, they mob it on sight!).

Unfortunately, the cuckoos pick on some of our most beloved birds; in Britain, most cuckoo “parasites” are laid in the nests of Robins (yes, our lovely redbreast), Pied Wagtails, the common birds we see picking up tidbits all over the place in spring, and up to 100 more species.

Cuckoos would seem to specialize on the birds they use, as their eggs in many cases are similar to the eggs of the host. We now know this to be true after much doubt, and the cuckoo is known linked to the host, “Cuckoo-Robins, etc. Amazing how the species is able to mimic the variety of patterns and coloration of the eggs of so many species.

This may, although this is purely speculation on my part, be why there are so many fewer immigrants, because their specialized hosts have been sorely depleted over the last 20 years: this, along with severe insect decline, may have spelled the absence, hopefully on a temporary basis, of our cuckoo.

Bats, who specialize on moths, and the Cuckoo, who do the same with their big hairy and poisonous caterpillars during the day, have been doubly hit.

Moths, indeed, may be some of the creatures most denuded on the planet, hundreds of species have disappeared or been decimated, as have all those creatures who depend on them one way or another.

Do you get Cuckoos in the USA? Probably not, but you do have one famous member of the same family, the Roadrunner.

They are famously said to emit a “Beep-Beep!” Or was that just in the famous cartoon?


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    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hiya strictlycuckoo. We all love you anyway...who wants to be normal?

      Thanks for visit


    • stricktlydating profile image

      StricktlyDating 5 years ago from Australia

      I wouldn't want one in my own backyard, my yard already seems like a bird century at certain times of the day, but I totally understand what you're saying. And I may be slightly off topic, but you meantioned the Koala, which I see as being more docile - due to being asleep all the time, rather than being stupid) I can understand a Koala being a soft toy to cuddle into, because of its small size but a child would never hug a bear in real life so I don't get why kids are given teddy bears so often... Way off topic, sorry I'm being Kuckoo :P Hope you have a good weekend.

    • profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago

      And me Angie: Perhaps we'll beat them too it.


    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi Bob ... it is depressing to know that one should be hearing the cuckoo now and it isn't there. It was such a common sound in my childhood as I rambled about in fields and woods.

      Our summer visitors the swallows have recently arrived in our village and they sit on the telephone wires outside my house chittering away to themselves ... they are another sound of summer and so far they seem to be surviving.

      I dread the day when all the birds fall silent ...

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hiya Tilly: I didn't know you had cuckoos in the states. You would never forget the call if you've heard. They are European, or African really as they spend more time down there.

      It's all going, mammals, birds, fish, insects, we'll be off too I expect, a meteor maybe


    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Although cuckoos are supposed to live around here I've never seen one. Not that I'm an avid bird watcher, but we do have feeders out and lots of birds. Our good friend Miriam Webster defines the cuckoo as a European bird so who knows.

      Although they say extinction is part of evolution I don't see how losing whole species contributes to anything. How sad to lose the cuckoo, what'll happen to all those clocks? Seriously, it is scary that we are driving species into extinction.

      As you usually do you've provided a lot of information and food for thought. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks for visit and comment, dear, I do have one cuckoo left, however!

      R xx

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      There are cuckoos here, but I have never seen one or heard one that I know of. I'm told they don't hang around up north where I'm originally from and they aren't out west or in the Pacific Northwest either, so maybe they're hanging out with the roadrunners in New Mexico and Arizona?

      Sorry to hear your cuckoos are disappearing. We have a lot of birds that are in trouble here in the states too.

      Interesting hub and very lovely pictures. Voting you UP, interesting, and sharing with my followers. Then it's nite nite time for an hour before I must go to work. xx

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Jama: yes: Goodness knows how we are going to get out of this mess short of sterilising everyone soon after birth.

      So sad


    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      The decline of the cuckoo is only one example of how much every inhabitant of this planet is dependent on every other. It's the "butterfly in the rain forest" effect. Here in the U.S., farmers have become alarmed at the decline of honey bees, since they're responsible for pollinating many crops. No bees = no pollination = no crops = we all starve. Funny how Mother Nature's Grand Plan only works when all elements are present and allowed to carry out their particular function.

      Voted up and awesome! ;D

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Stephanie. Thanks for your, as ever, warm and full comment.


    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Will. That's absolutely extraordinary that you have just been treated to the sound of the will never forget it now.


    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      Hi Bob,

      It's a sad thing to realize how the decline of one species affects other species like a tumbling house of cards. As moths disappear, so do the birds that depend on them for food. As habitat disappears, so do the plants, the insects, then the birds...then...?

      Although I don't know much about the cuckoo in the U.S., I do know that there are many birds in similar decline, and we can't fix it by just putting out more birdfeeders.

      I didn't know that the roadrunner is a relative of the cuckoo. We've seen them out west actually running on the roads, but didn't hear the "beep beep." I'll have to listen more closely next time!

      Great hub, interesting and useful. Voted up!

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I'd never heard one, so I looked it up:

      What a great call. Good Hub, Bob!