The Common Cuckoo returns from South Africa to Europe in April. It is said, that spring begins when the first song of the Cuckoo is heard. The bird’s name comes from its singing – coucou in French, koekoek in Dutch and kukushka in Russian all note the bird’s distinctive singing.
These birds are about 33 cm long and their wingspan reaches 55-60 cm. Their plumage is grayish brown mixed with white, while the underpart is usually white with gray stripes, similar to a sparrowhawk. It’s definitely not a coincidence, because this way, other birds often confuse the two birds, thus when a Cuckoo is flying over a nest, the other bird will most often flee, fearing that it’s the hawk.
Common Cuckoo's belly is similar to sparrowhawk's
Cuckoos are widespread in all parts of Europe and most parts of Asia. They are migratory birds, and they leave Europe in July and fly to Central and South Africa, where they spend the winter. In April, they start the long journey back. They will try to avoid cities, and most often nest in humid areas, such as lake or river shores, and rarely can the bird be seen in cities or other human populated areas.
Common Cuckoo feeds on bugs, insects and worms, which it finds mostly in trees and bushes. Cuckoos are not very fastidious about their diet, and they are one of the few birds that eat almost all worms. Young birds are fed with larvae, flies, bugs and small snails. Actually, Cuckoo chicks demand food in such an aggressive manner that random birds that are near the chick will often feed it, just for the sake of silence.
These birds have found an interesting way of raising more descendants than they could in their own nests. Cuckoos lay eggs in other birds’ nests, most often choosing birds that feed mostly on bugs, flies and worms. At the end of May, the hen lays eggs in about nine nests, first scaring its owners away by showing off her falcon-like underbelly, when flying atop the nest. After the owners of the nest are gone, the Cuckoo swaps one of her eggs with one that is already there and later the step-parents will raise the egg as their own.
The egg hatches rather soon – after about 12 days, which is a shorter than for most other bird species, and the newly hatched chick immediately tries to push all other eggs out of the nest and starts aggressively demanding food. The Cuckoo grows at lightning speed – four weeks later the bird is already 50 times larger than upon hatching, and nests often can’t hold the weight and fall on the ground, which is when the Cuckoo leaves the nest and starts independent life.
A Common Cuckoo in the forest