WILDLIFE

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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

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