BBC Wildlife Magazine
KEEPING CUCKOOS COOING
The Woodland Trust is working tirelessly to protect the cuckoo’s natural habitat
Known for being a master of misdirection, the cuckoo’s reputation precedes it. As a brood parasite, cuckoos spook other woodland birds from their nests so they can lay their own egg there. The host bird – most likely a dunnock, meadow pipit or reed warbler – will then bring the young cuckoo up until it’s fully grown.
The cuckoo chick hatches after around 11 days, pushing any other eggs out of the nest to ensure it receives the sole attention of its new family. The adoptive parents will continue to feed the cuckoo for another few weeks, even though it will reach two or three times their size.
And although its behaviour might sound antisocial to us, its migratory cycle is part of our woodland’s natural rhythm. Today its numbers are greatly reduced due to loss of habitat.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE
Cuckoos overwinter in Africa, migrating to the UK in the spring and leaving by late June. You’re most likely to find them in woodland areas, particularly around the edges, as well as near reed beds, in scrubland and the Scottish moorlands.
If you’re keen to spot one, then it pays to know what to look for. Cuckoos have a distinctive appearance with a grey head, yellow feet and a black beak. They also have a striking yellow ring around each eye.
The dark grey plumage on the upper parts of their body resembles the markings of a sparrowhawk, and in flight, both look very similar. To distinguish between the two, look for the cuckoo’s graduated tail.
FACING THE FUTURE
The Woodland Trust is doing everything it can to preserve our nation’s woodlands, which are home to incredible creatures such as the cuckoo. From planting more trees and allowing trees and shrubs to recolonise land naturally, to restoring damaged woodlands, the conservation charity has achieved some great successes in recent years, but there’s still more work to be done.
By becoming a member of the Woodland Trust, you’ll be playing an important part in helping the charity to continue its vital work.