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 Cuckoo - Fact File
British Birds - Cuckoo
Cuculus canorus
Widespread summer visitor.
Found in a wide variety of countryside, including farmland, reedbeds and moorland.
Well known call and is more often heard than seen. Grey upperparts and barring below recall Sparrowhawk, but has pointed wings. Wings often drooped when perched (see illustration.) Lays eggs in a wide variety of other birds nests, but main hosts are Reed Warbler, Dunnock and Meadow Pipit.
33 cm (13")


A hen cuckoo can lay up to 25 eggs, if she puts her mind to it, although this is exceptional.

Stevenson mentions in his 'Birds of Norfolk' (1866) having flushed several cuckoos that had congregated in some gooseberry bushes in a garden at Bramerton and that the attraction proved to be an infestation of large white butterfly caterpillars, to which they seemed partial.

And, strangely, in The Field, published in 1900, a Captain Fosberry wrote about having cuckoos frequenting gooseberry bushes in his garden at Mosstown, county Westmeath. Initially, there were just two birds, but they soon attracted 13 more. Again it was caterpillars they were feeding on.

Gilbert White was of the opinion that it was anatomically impossible for a cuckoo to brood its eggs, due to the crop not lying at the base of the neck, as in other birds, but immediately below the sternum and between that and the anus, causing a protuberance of the belly. Thus they adopted surrogacy.

By Percy Trett

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Copyright Information

  • Article: © Eastern Counties Newspapers Group
  • Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge © Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.
  • Other material: © Birds Of Britain