Y favourite moment this month so far is hearing a bird call. “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” it cried across the moorland.
Then, as I got closer, there was “cuckoo, cuckoo, cuck...”, almost like a huge gulp. It made me laugh. This was the same spot on the West Pennine Moors where I actually saw a cuckoo last year and that is something special.
Cuckoo numbers plummeted by 62 per cent in the region between 1970 and 2010, according to the Bird Atlas, so they are quite a rare summer visitor to the UK and here. From a couple of hundred pairs in the 70s to around 100 pairs now, cuckoos have dipped.
A number of reasons have been put forward for this, including changing climate and changes in habitats as the cuckoos fly to and from Africa.
However, the saddest reason appears to be a decline in smaller birds which are the poor victims of the cuckoo’s naughty behaviour.
Cuckoos are broodparasites, which lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. This fools the smaller birds into raising the chicks, who kick all the other eggs and chicks out of the nest. Dunnocks, meadow pipits and reed warblers are common victims of this extremely rude behaviour.
Interestingly, the term cuckold derives from the word cuckoo. A cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife or a man who often unwittingly cares for a child which is not actually his own.
The pipits and warblers are the unwitting victims here, never really realising that their offspring has cleared the nest and is now five times bigger than ● them. With falling numbers of the smaller birds there are fewer nests for the cuckoo to sneak into and lay its eggs. There is also evidence of a slight shift in the timing of smaller birds building nests, so when the cuckoo arrives there is nowhere to go for their egg drop.
This evidence has not been firmed up so there could be many other reasons why our cuckoo numbers have declined – climate change and former agricultural practices being the usual suspects.
Cuckoos are quite large birds, the size of a collared dove. Their blue-grey and brown markings and white underneath mean they are often mistaken for sparrowhawks. They have long and pointed wings and are hawk-like in shape in flight.
I only recognised that my sighting was a cuckoo because it had cuckoo-ed before it flew off.
I was lucky to see the bird, let’s hope their numbers increase so lots of other people see cuckoos too. The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside is dedicated to the protection and promotion of wildlife in Lancashire, seven boroughs of Greater Manchester and four of Merseyside, all lying north of the River Mersey. It manages around 40 nature reserves and 20 Local Nature Reserves covering acres of woodland, wetland, upland and meadow. The Trust has 27,000 members, and over 1,200 volunteers. To become a member go to the website at lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129. For more information about Cheshire Wildlife Trust call 01948 820728.
The cuckoo is a rare sight these days