Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

(32 cm.) Upperparts grey with black tail; black bars in white abdomen; yellow iris; unbarred rump

The Common Cuckoo is a member of a notorious family of the birds, “Cuculidae,” the cuckoos. Cuckoos also have an order named after them, “Cuculiformes,” which includes roadrunners, anis and coucals. Their position in an order other than Passeriformes means that despite a similar appearance, cuckoos are not considered “songbirds”.

All species of cuckoos derive their names from the call of the male Common Cuckoo which is heard during summer in the Common Cuckoo’s breeding range. During the summer breeding period, this species utters a loud and clear “kuk-oo” refrain from the treetops. The name “cuckoo” in English, is an excellent example of onomatopoeia being applied in the name of a bird.

Cuckoos of all species have earned their notorious reputations due to their practice of “brood parasitism.” The females of cuckoo species do not make nests nor possess any desire to raise their own chicks. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other, usually smaller, birds and in so doing force their parental duties on them. Female cuckoos do so by visiting nests, pushing an egg out of those nests, and leaving one of their own. They will visit many nests and repeat the process. The Common Cuckoo is particular about which species it will victimize with its parasitic behavior, preferring to inconvenience the females of the reed warbler group.

In addition to their shirking of parental responsibilities, cuckoos’ reputations have been further sullied by their occasion habit of eating the eggs and chicks of other bird species.

Also known at times as the Eurasian Cuckoo, the Common Cuckoo breeds in Europe and Asia, and can be found in winter in Africa and Southeast Asia. In China, it breeds in every part of the country except the western desert regions where it is never seen. It prefers to live in open wooded areas.

In addition to the occasional egg and chick the Common Cuckoo’s diet consists of insects, particularly species of hairy caterpillars which other birds avoid. It would be considered an insectivore as it rarely eats food from other sources.

Although the Common Cuckoo does possess some habits that we might describe as despicable, this bird is nonetheless an interesting creature which although common, is rarely seen.

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