NATURE NOTES - Cuckoo!

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WELL it’s early May and I have a quest which will not be that easy. It’s pretty easy to hear this bird but not that easy to see one. This year I want to get some good views of a cuckoo.

Probably one of the easiest birds to recognise by its call as it says what it is and nothing else!

The female has a much more pleasant call than the males repetitious cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo and is often likened to a rich bubbling chuckle.

The cuckoo is quite a handsome bird looking somewhat like a sparrowhawk except it has pointed wings that it droops whilst perching.

Smaller birds regularly mob it either because they see it as a bird of prey, or because they suss what it’s up to with its eggs. Its claim to fame is its habit of laying its eggs in other birds’ nests.

Unfortunately cuckoo numbers are falling probably caused by a fall in the species that it uses to raise its young – dunnock, meadow pipit, robin and reed warbler being its favourites.

Cuckoo’s love caterpillars, especially hairy or brightly coloured poisonous ones, these form the major part of their diet, but they also take a variety of other insects. Their digestive system is specially adapted to cope with the hairs and toxins.

They don’t hang around – the adult birds arriving in April, mating starts in May and then they are off again by mid July back to Africa. The youngsters follow in August and September.

Who shows them where to go and how to get there I wonder? I find it hard enough with my Sat Nav to find my way anywhere!!!

Here are 10 cuckoo factoids:

* There are 54 species of cuckoo, but only two live in Europe: most live in Africa, Asia and Australasia.

* 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

* Only the male cuckoo calls cuckoo, and as the spring progresses the double-note tends to change:

* The earliest-ever reliable record of a cuckoo in England was one at Farnham in Surrey on 20 February 1953.

* Each breeding season a female will lay between 12 and 22 eggs, all in different nests.

* More than 120 species have been parasitised by cuckoos in Europe: in Britain the most favoured species are dunnock, meadow pipit and reed bunting.

* A female cuckoo will generally lay her eggs in a nest belonging to the same species of bird that reared her.

* Though cuckoo eggs usually resemble those of their host, around 20% are rejected so never hatch.

* Cuckoos spends nine months of the year in tropical Africa, they have never been heard to call there.

* Cuckoo spit has nothing to do with cuckoos,it is produced by insects - froghoppers- as a protection from predators.

Listen out for them from now on as they have just arrived!