European Cuckoo Fact File
Credit: Medenica Ivan, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Wild 10 years
Captive 10 years
Cuckoo…Yes Like the Clock!
The common cuckoo is the inspiration of the cuckoo clocks found in homes across the world. Their cuckoo call heralds the beginning of spring in Europe as they call to attract a mate.
Once they find a mate the female will begin to seek out nests of other birds. This species is a brood parasite which means she deposits her eggs in the nest of another bird species. Once they hatch they will push any other eggs or chicks from the nest.
This carnivorous species will feed on a range of insects and has adapted to feed on poisonous insects.
Their numbers are declining as a result of a reduction in prey availability.
Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.
What does the Common Cuckoo look like?
The common cuckoo has a long body.
On their underside they have white feathers patterned with bars of black feathers. Across their back and head are grey feathers. In some areas a rufous morph is seen with females in this morph being brown.
Their short beak is colored yellow with a black tip. Their legs and feet are colored orange.
The eye features a yellowish-brown or orange iris. It is surrounded by a yellow ring.
An average common cuckoo will measure 32-36cm (12.5-14in) long and weigh 125g (4oz). They have a wingspan of between 55 and 60 cm (22-24in) across. These wings are long and pointed.
How does the Common Cuckoo survive in its habitat?
The common cuckoo is able to feed on poisonous caterpillars which are rejected by most other species. They will slice them open and then shake out the toxic parts from inside before swallowing the prey item.
— AD —
What does the Common Cuckoo eat?
The common cuckoo is primarily a carnivore and will feed on a range of invertebrates. A primary food source is caterpillars. They have rarely been seen to feed on fruits.
Females may also take eggs and chicks from nests where they lay their eggs.
Learn more about the Common Cuckoo in this video from Vilius Paskevicius on YouTube
Where do you find the Common Cuckoo?
The common cuckoo is found in parts of Asia, Europe and Africa. Each year they will migrate spending winter in Africa and breeding in summer through Europe and Asia.
Breeding populations can be found in Afghanistan; Albania; Andorra; Armenia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bhutan; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; China; Croatia; Czechia; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Gibraltar; Hungary; India; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Nepal; Netherlands; North Macedonia; Norway; Pakistan; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation (Eastern Asian Russia, Central Asian Russia, European Russia); Serbia; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Tajikistan; Thailand; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Ukraine; United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.
They will pass through the following countries during their migration – Bahrain; Iraq; Jordan; Kuwait; Oman; Palestine, State of; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; South Sudan; United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
This species is a non-breeding resident in – Algeria; Angola; Bangladesh; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Denmark; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Germany; Ghana; Greece; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Hong Kong; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Kenya; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Lebanon; Liberia; Libya; Malawi; Maldives; Mali; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; Sri Lanka; Sudan; Syrian Arab Republic; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Viet Nam; Western Sahara; Zambia and Zimbabwe.
They are considered an occasional vagrant to Barbados; Cabo Verde; Comoros; Côte d'Ivoire; Faroe Islands; Gambia; Greenland; Iceland; Indonesia; Lesotho; Mayotte; Palau; Seychelles; Taiwan, Province of China and United States.
Where can the Common Cuckoo survive?
The wide range of this species means they can be found in a variety of habitats including forest, wetlands, woodland areas, steppes and meadows.
Credit: Vogelartinfo, GFDL 1.2 <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html>, via Wikimedia Commons
How does the Common Cuckoo produce its young?
Males and females will display as they attempt to court one another. He will bob his head while bowing his body. On occasion he will offer her some food during the courtship.
These birds may court multiple times throughout the season and mate with multiple partners.
This species is considered a brood parasite. Their eggs are deposited in to the nest of another bird species and these will then be raised by that bird. Over 100 species have been recorded as hosts for this species.
Females will deposit a single egg in to the nest of a smaller species of bird such as sparrows and pipits. Upon hatching the cuckoo chick will pick up any other eggs in the nest and throw them from the nest.
In many cases these chicks grow to be larger than the bird which has raised them.
As they are not raising their own eggs they can lay as many as 10-25 eggs in a single season.
Eggs hatch within 13 days of being laid. They will fledge at 21 days old and are independent within 8 weeks. Their parents have no role in raising the young.
Sexual maturity is achieved by two years old.
What does the Common Cuckoo do during its day?
These birds are migratory and will breed in Europe and Asia before travelling to Africa to spend the winter in warmer climates.
Common cuckoos have a distinctive call. This is often regarded as one of the first signs of spring in Europe.
Outside of the breeding season this species is solitary. Even at this time they only come together briefly to mate.
Credit: gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Predators and Threats
What stops the Common Cuckoo from surviving and thriving?
No predators have been recorded of the adult common cuckoo. Chicks may be targeted by crows and cats.
To defend themselves against predation the young can let out brown fluid with a bad odor.
Numbers of the common cuckoo have been declining across their range. At present the mature population is estimated at 40,000,000-74,999,999 mature individuals.
In areas of Europe this species has been impacted by intensive farming which leads to lower insect populations.
— AD —
The species was first described for modern science in 1758.
Their call is imitated by cuckoo clocks. These were first produced in the Black Forest which is located in Germany part of this species range.
Credit: jinchin 建昌 lin, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.
Bouglouan, N., 2022. Common Cuckoo. [online] Oiseaux-birds.com. Available at: <http://www.oiseaux-birds.com/card-common-cuckoo.html> [Accessed 24 February 2022].
Audubon. 2022. Common Cuckoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/common-cuckoo> [Accessed 24 February 2022].
Eden.uktv.co.uk. 2022. Common Cuckoos | Birds | Animals | Eden Channel. [online] Available at: <https://eden.uktv.co.uk/animals/birds/article/cuckoos/> [Accessed 24 February 2022].
Iqbal, M. 2021. "Cuculus canorus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 24, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cuculus_canorus/