About the size of a collared dove, the cuckoo is a scarce summer visitor to most of Britain, arriving in April.Their familiar ‘cuck-oo’ call heralds the start of spring. The adults leave for Africa by June or July, almost as soon as they have laid their eggs, while the young birds follow them in the autumn. Adults are ‘brood-parasites’ famous for laying their eggs in other birds’ nests and fooling them into raising their young for them. Dunnocks, meadow pipits and reed warblers are common victims of this ‘cuckolding’ behaviour.
Cuckoos are sometimes mistaken for sparrowhawks due to their markings: normally blue-grey but sometimes reddish-brown, backs and heads with striped dark grey and white undersides. They have long tails and pointed wings and a hawk-like shape in flight.
- Length: 32-34cm
- Wingspan: 58cm
- Weight: 110-130g
Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review and as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Widespread in the summer months
When to see
April – July
- Young cuckoos often grow much bigger than their host parents so require a lot of food and attention. To this end they will push out the rightful eggs or chicks of the host parents. Chicks and adults eat invertebrates; their preferred food is hairy caterpillars that other birds often won’t eat.
- Some scientists have suggested that a cuckoo chick’s adopted parents continue to feed the chick even when it becomes bigger than them because the cuckoo makes a noise that mimics a whole brood of chicks calling for food