The cuckoo is one of the most famous birds, a typical inhabitant of forests, parks, and a frequent visitor to garden plots. Her characteristic “cuckoo” is almost impossible to confuse with other voices of animals and birds. Because of the habit of throwing their eggs into other people's nests, her name has become a household name. And the bird itself has long been the hero of many signs.
The origin of the species and description
a separate cuckoo family, which includes 140 separate species. Outwardly, these birds are quite different from each other in both color and size. The sizes vary within a fairly wide range. Some species are only 17–20 cm long, others reach 70 cm.
The most famous member of the family is the common cuckoo, which is the original and gave the name to the whole family. The name itself comes from the onomatopoeic call of a male bird.
An interesting fact: The closest relatives of cuckoos are such birds as banana-eaters, turacos and hoatsins, which previously, together with cuckoos, were part of the order of new-palatine birds. In the current classification, only cuckoos remain in this order.
All representatives of the cuckoo have a common appearance. They have a rather elongated, streamlined body. The wings are long in proportion to the rest of the body. The tail is also long and has a stepped shape. The paws are very reminiscent of sparrows, but are of medium length. In addition, the toes on the paws are directed two back and two forward. This structure of the cuckoo's paw brings it closer to representatives of parrots. The beak of a cuckoo, regardless of the size of a particular species, must have the shape of a sharp hook at the end.
Appearance and features
In appearance, the common cuckoo resembles a sparrowhawk. Particularly similar are the details of plumage, the shape of the head and the style of flight. This similarity helps cuckoos survive. The size of a cuckoo is comparable to the size of a dove. The length of the bird is approximately 33 cm, weight is about 100–180 g. The wingspan is in the range of 56–65 cm. The tail is wedge-shaped, long enough, therefore, in combination with small wings, it helps the bird to maneuver well in the thickets. The legs are short but very strong, usually not visible when sitting.
Interesting fact: The legs have a so-called zygodactyl structure. Two fingers of the cuckoo are directed forward, and two back, like woodpeckers and parrots. This allows it to hold onto branches well, but makes it difficult to move on a flat horizontal surface.
The plumage of cuckoos is rather rigid. They have long pants on their legs. Male cuckoos are usually completely dark gray in color, while females have a brownish reddish-rusty tint on the back with small buffy patches in the neck and white with transverse stripes on the belly and chest.
Most of the time, the common cuckoo is silent and secretive. But in spring, as well as in the first half of summer, male birds become very noisy and noticeable, trying to attract attention. At this time, in the forest and in the parks, you can hear the characteristic loud “cuckoo, cuckoo” with multiple repetitions and with amplification on the first syllable. In calm weather, the bird's voice can be clearly heard at a distance of up to two kilometers.
Where does the cuckoo live?
The range of all types of cuckoos is distributed on all continents, with the exception of Antarctica. It covers almost all climatic zones from the forest-tundra to the tropics. The largest number of species is found in Eurasia and North America, and mainly in tropical regions. Common cuckoos are common in northern latitudes. They inhabit most of Europe and Asia, are distributed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and are found even in the Kuriles, the Commander Islands, in Japan and the Korean Peninsula. The northern border of the range of common cuckoos coincides with the border of the distribution of woody vegetation.
Common cuckoos are typical migratory birds. In nesting areas they do not linger for more than three to four months throughout the year. The distance to winter places from nesting cuckoos can reach 5-6 thousand kilometers.
For wintering, they usually fly to southern regions, such as:
- South China.
Common cuckoos prefer to settle in deciduous forests, less often in shrub thickets on rough terrain, in forest belts or on island forests in the forest-steppe. Cuckoos avoid taiga and coniferous forests. In Central Asia, in places where there is very little tree vegetation, they can settle in open landscapes if there are separate trees or shrubs nearby.
What does a cuckoo eat?
Cuckoos are considered omnivores. Most of the diet of these birds is insects, but it can also include plant foods, such as berries or young shoots.
Favorite food of cuckoos:
- cabbage worms;
- ant larvae;
- butterflies (and pupae);
Cuckoos willingly eat many poisonous and furry caterpillars, which other birds are afraid to eat. Sometimes they eat small lizards and even feast on bird eggs. Prey is usually picked up from the ground or from branches, less often insects are caught on the fly.
Despite the relatively small size of the birds, they are very voracious. This is directly related to the accumulation of subcutaneous fat, which they need for long-distance flights during the winter migration. The appetite of cuckoos decreases only during the mating season, when all the forces and attention are directed to finding a mate. Gluttony is also characteristic of cuckoo chicks, which gain mass and size much faster than the chicks of all other birds.
Interesting fact: In one hour, one adult bird can eat about 100 caterpillars. And the average daily rate is at least 1,500 caterpillars.
It is believed that the destruction of a large number of insects by cuckoos is a very important factor in protecting the forest ecosystem and ensuring its balance. Therefore, cuckoos are not harmful birds, but rather useful, despite the peculiarity of raising their chicks.
Character and lifestyle features
The average life span of the common cuckoo is 9 to 11 years. Cuckoos are secretive and cautious birds and try to lead a silent lifestyle. A characteristic call is heard only during the mating season from mid-spring to mid-summer. They practically do not leave traces of vital activity, which makes it difficult to observe oneself.
The lifestyle is predominantly diurnal, most of the time the bird is busy eating food. Due to the structure of the paws, the cuckoo is not adapted to movement on the ground, therefore, if it descends for prey, it immediately flies up and eats the caught insect or lizard on the branch of the nearest tree. Because of this feature, the cuckoo leaves almost no paw marks on the ground.
Birds do not build their own nests. Common cuckoos are among the most perfect nest parasites. They never raise chicks, and throw their eggs into other people's nests. As a result, completely foreign birds act as breadwinners and educators of cuckoo chicks.
Interesting fact: Evolution has led to the fact that the cuckoo can lay mimic eggs that completely repeat the color of the eggs of those birds in which nests they will be planted. At one exhibition, about a hundred cuckoo eggs were shown in a variety of colors from white, inconspicuous spotted to bright blue.
It only takes a few seconds to lay an egg in someone else's nest. Before this, the male cuckoo may circle over the nest, depicting a predator. Taking advantage of the fact that the owners leave the nest for this time, the female flies up to him and lays her egg. Sometimes cuckoos also lay their eggs in hollows, and if a bird cannot fly there, then it can lay an egg nearby, and then deliver it to the hollow with its beak.
Social structure and reproduction
Common cuckoos are completely solitary and polygamous. They do not gather in flocks, and pairs form only for one season. But at the same time, the mating rituals of these birds are quite filled with romance. Usually the male waving his tail like a fan and calling the female. Her lowered head and wings are signs of recognition and call. The male may also bring a twig or stem as a gift as a sign of attention. Reproduction occurs from mid-spring to mid-summer.
There is no nesting territory for cuckoos in the conventional sense. On the same site, you can meet both one female and several males, and vice versa. A nesting site can be considered a site where a female cuckoo looks for other people's suitable nests for herself to lay her eggs in them, one in each. But sometimes two females meet in the same area. In this case, they parasitize on birds of different species.
Interesting fact: The incubation period of common cuckoo eggs is 11, rarely 12 days. Therefore, the cuckoo is born before its stepbrothers and gains a significant advantage over them in the struggle for food brought by foster parents.
For the first four days, the behavior of the chick is aimed at ousting the rest of the eggs and hatched chicks from the nest. The cuckoo sits down under another chick, and then backs up to the edge of the nest, where it straightens up sharply so that the victim flies down. He does it instinctively, and after four days the instinct disappears.
The independent existence of the cuckoo begins 40 days after hatching, when the plumage is fully formed in the bird. Until this time, the chick eats foster parents. Feeding occurs constantly, and even when the cuckoo grows larger than the birds feeding it. The cuckoo may leave the nest even after 20 days, but due to the fact that he makes characteristic cries asking for food, foster parents continue to feed him even after that.
Natural enemies of cuckoos
Adults have very few enemies, which is due to the flight dexterity of the common cuckoo and the similarity of its appearance with birds of prey.
Very rarely and under certain circumstances a cuckoo can be attacked:
- gray flycatchers;
- some other birds.
Attacks occur mainly on chicks that have just left the nests of foster parents, and for this reason have not gained enough experience and flight dexterity.
Predatory mammals such as foxes, martens, weasels and cats can also pose a particular danger to birds. But cuckoos fall into their paws very rarely, for the simple reason that they try not to approach the surface of the earth at all, and if they descend, then only to attack their prey, the choice of which is carried out carefully and carefully.
Nest destroyers such as crows and jays are also a danger to cuckoos and eggs. Despite the fact that cuckoos do not build their own nests at all, but lay eggs in others', other people's nests are also quite often ruined, so the chicks in them can be killed, and the eggs can also be eaten by a predator that has climbed into the nest.
Population and species status
The common cuckoo is a species of Least Concern. Its range is quite extensive. In Europe today there are about two million pairs. For this reason, the birds are not protected, and no additional measures are being taken to increase their population.
Interesting fact: A cuckoo can lay about 20 eggs per season. Usually every fifth chick survives to adulthood.
Unpretentiousness, good adaptability, a large amount of varied food and the absence of significant enemies help cuckoos survive. It also helps that cuckoos can eat poisonous caterpillars that other birds neglect, so even in difficult times they are not afraid of interspecific competition.
However, in some regions, the number of common cuckoos is also declining, which is associated with the development of urban development and a decrease in tree vegetation. That is, the reason for the reduction is the disappearance of the bird's natural habitat. In 2001, the species was listed in the Red Book of Moscow, in the second category, as a species with a reduced population. Today, there are no significant changes in the state of this species, either up or down, compared to the period 1990–2000.
On the territory In Moscow, almost all forests where cuckoo breeding has been noted have been assigned the status of a specially protected natural area, or these places have become part of nearby similar areas.
It is noted that a large negative factor affecting the population of the common cuckoo is the increased isolation of natural and large artificial landscaped areas due to the compaction of urban development and the increase in its number of storeys. Therefore, among the main planned measures to improve the urban ecology, the main one is to improve the living conditions of both cuckoos and small passerine birds in city parks, green areas and forest belts.
The cuckoo is an object of close attention, especially in the Moscow region. In addition, it is noted that a necessary measure in the maintenance and reconstruction of natural and park areas is compliance with the requirements for preserving the diversity of food objects – invertebrates. In addition, it is additionally planned to impose a ban on the reconstruction of forests with a simplification of their composition or structure, as well as the development and implementation of several special programs for the restoration of natural communities in landscaped river valleys in the city and region.