Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

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Male cuckoo
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • The cuckoo is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nest of other species and will provide no parental care of its young.
  • Cuckoo eggs mimic those of their most common hosts. If the hosts notice the extra egg they will abandon the nest.
  • The newly hatched cuckoo chick immediately ejects other eggs and chicks from the nest of its host.
  • A cuckoo chick will often grow to be much larger than its unsuspecting foster parent.
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Cuckoo fact file

Cuckoo description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCuculiformes
FamilyCuculidae
GenusCuculus (1)

A well-known harbinger of spring, the arrival of the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) in Britain is eagerly awaited each April (3). Adult males have bluish-grey upperparts and a white belly with dark barring. Females occur in two forms, one is similar to the male but the breast is buff coloured with dark barring; the other form is reddish brown, and often wholly covered with dark bars (2). Juveniles are slate-grey with touches of reddish-brown (2). The familiar call 'cuck-oo, cuck-oo' is imitated by the common name; later in the year females produce a 'bubbling' call (6).

French
Coucou gris.
Size
Length: 32-36 cm (2)
Weight
54-60 g (2)
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Cuckoo biology

The cuckoo is the only 'brood parasite' to breed in Britain (3). Individual females prefer certain foster birds, and lay eggs that closely mimic those of the foster species, 50 of which are known (3). A female will establish a territory encompassing a number of potential foster nests, and carefully observe activity, waiting until the nests are at the right stage. She then swiftly takes her chance, swooping down, ejecting an egg and laying one of her own (3). The unsuspecting host bird then incubates and feeds the impostor, who removes other eggs and young from the nest and often grows much larger than its foster parent (3). Female cuckoos usually lay fewer than 12 eggs in 12 different host nests each year (3). Cuckoos feed mainly on insects, spiders and worms (3).

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Cuckoo range

The cuckoo arrives in Britain during the second part of April from Africa south of the Sahara, and leaves in September (2). It is widespread in Britain and breeds throughout Europe, reaching as far east as Japan (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Cuckoo habitat

The cuckoo occupies a broad variety of habitats, including all types of woodland, marshes, heaths and alpine areas (2).

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Cuckoo status

The cuckoo is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). A widespread summer visitor to the UK (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (4) and protected at all times under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (5).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Cuckoo threats

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) has shown that the population of the cuckoo in Britain has declined steadily; this is thought to be due to a decrease in populations of key host species such as meadow pipit and dunnock (7), probably due to habitat-related factors (5).

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Cuckoo conservation

No specific conservation action has been targeted at the cuckoo.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the cuckoo:

 For more information on the cuckoo and other bird species:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

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Glossary

Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/5_20625.pdf
  5. RSPB (2003): Pers. comm
  6. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
  7. BTO, Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside (November 2002):
    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends2000/wcrcucko.htm
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Image credit

Male cuckoo  
Male cuckoo

© Mark Hamblin / gettyimages.com

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101 Bayham Street
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