Cuckoos are birds in the Cuculidae family, the only taxon in the order Cuculiformes. The cuckoo family includes the common or European cuckoo, roadrunner, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis. The Coucals and Anis are sometimes separated as different families, the Centropodidae and Crotophagidae, respectively.
Though there are 54 species of Old World cuckoos, just two live in Europe; most live in Africa, Asia and Australasia.
Cuckoos are birds of the medium size. They can reach 12.6 to 14.1 inches in length and weight up to 2.1 ounces.
The common cuckoo is the only member of the family that calls cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo… Most of the others have loud voices but totally different calls.
Males and females can be distinguished by the color of their feathers. Upper parts of the males are bluish to gray, and their white bellies are intersected with dark lines. Some females may look like males, except that they have buff colored breast with dark lines. Other types of females are reddish brown or covered with dark bars completely. Young cuckoos are slate-gray and reddish brown in color.
The female’s bubbling call is often said to resemble the sound of bath water running out when the plug is pulled.
Cuckoo has long and pointed wings and long and thin beak. While flying, it resembles to hawk.
The resident African cuckoo looks virtually identical to our bird, but has more orange-yellow on the beak. It calls pooh-pooh…
Cuckoos are named after onomatopoeic sound which they produce: ‘cuck-oo, cuck-oo’. Even thought the whole family is named by this unique sound, only one cuckoo species (Common cuckoo) is able to produce this sound.
The cuckoo is one of the most widespread breeding birds in Europe, and is only absent from Iceland. It also breeds throughout Asia east to Japan.
Other species communicate by producing different types of sounds.
The earliest-ever reliable record of a cuckoo in England was one at Farnham in Surrey on 20 February 1953.
Characteristic ‘cuck-oo, cuck-oo’ sound is produced only by males. Females produce bubbling sound, which resembles the sound of the water that is running out of the tub after removing the plug.
It is traditional to write to “The Times” when you hear the first cuckoo of spring.
Cuckoo feeds on insects and its favorite food is hairy caterpillar.
Only the male cuckoo calls cuckoo, and as the spring progresses the double-note tends to change: In June I change my tune.
Cuckoo travels to Africa each September to avoid cold periods and lack of food during the winter in temperate areas of Europe and Asia.
Cuckoo spit has nothing to do with cuckoos, but is produced by insects as a protection from predators.
Although cuckoo spends almost nine months in Africa, it never sings while there.
The word cuckold indicates a betrayed husband, a reflection of the cuckoo’s mating habits.
Cuckoo does not build its own nests, because it is a brood parasite. That means that female cuckoo uses nests of other birds to lay her own eggs.
More than 120 species have been parasitised by cuckoos in Europe: in Britain the most favoured species are dunnock, meadow pipit and reed bunting.
More than 120 species of birds can be tricked to raise young cuckoos as their own chicks, but 90% of cuckoo’s eggs are laid in the nests of reed warbler, meadow pipit and dunnock birds. Cuckoo chooses nests with eggs that are the most similar to eggs that she is producing.
Unlike most birds, female cuckoos lay their eggs in the afternoon rather than the morning.
20% of cuckoo’s eggs will be recognized as foreign eggs and eliminated from the nest.
Adult cuckoos move back to Africa as soon as the breeding season is over – as early as the second half of June in southern England.
Female cuckoo lays one egg in each nest. She usually lays between 12 and 22 eggs per season (in 12 to 22 different nests).
Young cuckoos follow their parents back to Africa several weeks later.
Timing of the hatching is very important and female cuckoo closely observes routine and behavior of other birds. Cuckoo’s eggs need to hatch before other eggs so that the young cuckoos gain advantage over other chicks and ensure enough food for development.
The cuckoo spends nine months of the year in tropical Africa, where it has never been heard to sing.
Young cuckoos are very aggressive toward other chicks in the nest and they will often remove them from the nest as soon as they hatch. When they are several weeks old, young cuckoos are ready to fly to Africa along with their parents.
Young cuckoos do not tolerate other eggs or chicks in their nest.
Cuckoos live less than six years in the wild.