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The Cuckoo Bird

Updated on April 18, 2013

Cuckoo birds are brood parasites

The cuckoo bird is more often heard than seen. The familiar "coo coo" sound is usually associated with the little bird that pops out of the Black Forest cuckoo clock to call out the time. But there is more to the cuckoo bird that meets the eye. It is a brood parasite. It does not make its own nest and lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species. The responsibility of parental care lies solely on the unsuspecting foster parent who will incubate and hatch the egg and raise it as its own. The young cuckoo chick will instinctively throw out host eggs and other hatchlings to get all the space in the nest and food for itself.

Photo source:Wikipedia- Wikimedia Commons

Sounds familiar?

Listen to the call of the cuckoo bird

Not all cuckoos are brood parasites

There are 142 species of cuckoos but only 40 percent are brood parasites. The non-parasitic cuckoos build nests, lay plain white eggs, incubate them, and rear their young as expected of birds. Brood parasites, on the other hand, never learned to build their own nests. They are on the lookout for host nests that have eggs that resemble their own. The cuckoo incubates its egg inside its body for an extra 24 hours to ensure that it will hatch first as soon as it hijacks a nest, eats or throws out the host egg and replaces it with its egg. The cuckoo bird then takes off to repeat the same strategy in another nest. Bad bird behavior does not stop with the mom. The hatchling will toss out any object that touches it in the nest, like eggs and other hatchlings. The unsuspecting foster parent is left with rearing and feeding the cuckoo bird at the expense of losing its own.

Survival of the fittest - How the cuckoo population survives

This video captures what brood parasitism is all about. The female cuckoo raids a nest, eat some of the eggs of the host bird and lays its own eggs in the nest. The poaching female cuckoo bird then takes off and leaves the host bird of the nest to do the mothering duties. Barely 24-hours old, this blind cuckoo chick instinctively knows how to get rid of competition by rolling any remaining host eggs or chicks over the edge of the nest. Here it is using the indentation on its back to heave the egg out of the nest. This way it gets all the worms and food for itself. Somehow, the baby cuckoo chicks manages to fool the host birds to care and nurture them as if they are her own. This may seem to be self-serving but it is nature's way to allow the cuckoo population to thrive at the expense of the host eggs.

Different cuckoos prefer specific bird nests

Females lay eggs with same color and pattern as host eggs

Cuckoo birds are able to mimic the pattern and color of the eggs of the host nests they are victimizing. This way, the egg can just be dropped into an unattended nest and blend in with the other clutch of eggs. The unsuspecting foster mom will not know any better even if the egg is larger than the rest. How is it possible that the host mother cannot recognize a foreign egg? This is one of the oddities of nature.

Why Evolution is True - mimicry: the nefarious cuckoo

The Common Cuckoo

Photo Credit: Jean Van Holen

The Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) formerly known as the European cuckoo is a brood parasite that prefers to lay its eggs in the nest of smaller birds, like the Eurasian Reed Warblers, Dunnocks and Meadow Pipits. Its choice of nest is based on the color of the host eggs which matches her own. It replaces one host egg with one of her own and lays 4 or 5 eggs more at 48-hr intervals each in a different nest.

The Common cuckoo's name comes from its plaintive two-note call of "coo-coo" immortalized in the well-reknowned German Black Forest cuckoo clocks.

Great Spotted cuckoo

Photo Credit: Armando Caldas

The Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) lays its eggs in the nests of starlings and magpies but unlike the Common cuckoo, it does not throw out the host eggs. However, the young magpies usually starve to death as the cuckoo chicks usually monopolize the food. In the summer, the spotted cuckoo migrates to the warm open country of southwest Europe and western Asia and winters in Africa.

Pallid Cuckoo

Photo Credit: smash

The Pallid Cuckoo (Cucullus pallidus) lays its eggs in the nest of honeyeaters, woodswallows, whistlers, and flycathers. Its eggs usually resembles those of the host eggs and the unsuspecting host will incubate and hatch the eggs along with its own.

Why Evolution is True

Sneakiest bird

Parenting Tips from Cuckoo Birds

Cuckoo chick ejects host egg and hatchling out of nest

This video is heartbreaking to watch.

A Bronze Cuckoo bird growing up in a Golden-bellied Gerygone's nest.

Little foster moms raising and feeding over-sized kids

Full-time babysitters for baby hueys

These photos show host moms feeding a variety of cuckoo chicks who have outgrown them. Since the cuckoo chicks grow in leaps and bounds, the job of feeding these voracious interlopers is a daunting task. This is comical, yet so tragic.

Tiny Willow warbler feeds large baby cuckoo bird

Photo Credit: namq

This Common Cuckoo fledgling is at least four times the size of the little Willow Warbler foster mom. The warbler does not seem to mind feeding this monster kid. This is mother's instinct at its best.

Young Pallid Cuckoo being fed by little honeyeater mom - What nature lacks, nature also provides

Photo Credit: aaardvaark

A Yellow-plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus ornatus) is feeding this growing Pallid cuckoo chick who doubled its size in 5 days. Pallid cuckoos have a liking for hairy caterpillars and larvae of other insects.

Outgrown the nest of foster mom - Cuckoo chick barely fits in nest

Photo Credit:john.dart

This picture says it all! The over-sized Pallid cuckoo is still squatting in the Yellow Plumed Honeyeater's nest and being fed by the dedicated little foster mom. Since the honeyeater mother is small and can only fetch so many insects at a time, she will have to make several trips to satisfy the hunger pangs of the Pallid cuckoo chick.

Did you know...

A group of cuckoos are collectively known as a "cooch" and an "asylum" of cuckoos.

Cuckoo is slang for a foolish or crazy person.

Cuckoo is slang for a foolish or crazy person.

Take a quick poll about the cuckoo bird

Given that the mother cuckoo bird does not build its own nest, drops off its egg in another bird's nest, eats the host eggs and even throws out the other chicks out of the nest, and let the foster parent rear its chick-

What is your impression of the cuckoo bird now?

See results

Symbol of unfaithfulness

Cuckold is derived from the Old French for the cuckoo, coucou, alluding to the parasitic bird laying its eggs in the nest of other birds.

Mechanical or battery-operated cuckoo clocks

The plaintive sound of the two-note cuckoo bird call is immortalized in all cuckoo clocks, whether these are mechanical or battery-operated. The quartz-driven modern day clocks have digital recordings of the cuckoo calls.

River City Clocks Quartz Cuckoo Clock

Painted Chalet with Dancers

Wesminster Chime or Cuckoo Sound

7 Inches Tall

Model # 83-07QPT

Cuckoo Clock Black Forest house with moving beer drinkers and mill wheel

Black Forest Clock with cuckoo, turning dancers, incl. batterie

Quartz Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks

QUARTZ CUCKOO CLOCK

Parasitic Birds and Their Hosts:

Studies in Coevolution

(Oxford Ornithology Series)

The Avian Brood Parasites:

Deception at the Nest

Parasitism and Host Behaviour

Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo:

Migratory Birds and the Impending Ecological Catastrophe

The Cuckoos

(Bird Families of the World)

Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 10:

Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes

The Nesting Season:

Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy

Let's hear it from you. - Nature versus nurturing

Brood parasites like cuckoo birds and cowbirds pawn off the responsibility of rearing their young to the host parents. Why is the foster parent so accepting of the imposter at the cost of her own hatchlings? Why is the biological parent off the hook so easily. Is this nature's way of saying only the fittest survive?

Is parentage important considering a different bird specie raised the cuckoo chick?

Brood parasites are programmed to be freeloaders.

Brood parasites are programmed to be freeloaders.

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    The foster parent's dedication in raising the imposter proves that maternal instinct conquers all.

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      • floppypoppygift1 4 years ago

        I think I have heard of another breed that does this: The Cowbird...

      • darciefrench lm 5 years ago

        That any animal acts as a parent is a miracle of evolution.

      Leave your thoughts here before you fly off.

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        • linhah lm profile image

          Linda Hahn 5 years ago from California

          Fascinating lens. Lensrolled to My Pal The Great Horned Owl, who also borrows the nest of other birds.

        • sorana lm profile image

          sorana lm 5 years ago

          Very interesting lens. The cuckoo bird have always intrigued me with their behaviour.

        • annieangel1 profile image

          Ann 5 years ago from Yorkshire, England

          nicely done - Angel blessed and features on wild bird lenses published in May

        • Sensitive Fern profile image

          Sensitive Fern 5 years ago

          I didn't know that cuckoos didn't build their own nests. Not sure how I feel about them now. *Blessed and listed on my Creative Squid blog.

        • Roxy Calamari profile image

          Roxy Calamari 5 years ago

          Very interesting lens!

        • CruiseReady profile image

          CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

          This was very interesting, but that video is just too brutal... makes one wonder if cuckoos are born evil.

        • profile image

          SteveKaye 4 years ago

          Everything in nature eats something else. This is just another version.

          Thank you for publishing this lens. It tells anther story about birds.

        • maryseena profile image

          maryseena 4 years ago

          Beautiful portrayal of nature's phenomenon. I wold like to add this lens to my 'Adding life to your garden' lens as son as I learn how to do it.

        • aesta1 profile image

          Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

          This is really interesting. Nature has its mysteries.

        • profile image

          moonlitta 4 years ago

          There is a saying here that when you hear a cuckoo bird you should have money in your pocket, otherwise it is an omen of poverty. So it is not loved much here too:)

        • Jogalog profile image

          Jogalog 4 years ago

          It's incredible how the other birds don't recognise that there is something odd going on but you can't blame the baby cuckoos. They have to do their best to survive like anyone else.

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