Species Details

Details of Common Cuckoo will be displayed below

Common Cuckoo   

Common Name: Common Cuckoo
Scientific Name: Cuculus canorus
Local Name: Fuh Gahu Guraa
Dhivehi Name: ފުށްގަހު ގުރާ
Animalia  (Kingdom)
Chordata  (Plylum)
Aves  (Class)
Cuculiformes  (Order)
Cuculidae  (Family)
Cuculus   (Genus)

Common Cuckoo's description

The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, Cuculiformes, which includes the roadrunners, the anis and the coucals.

This species is a widespread summer migrant to Europe and Asia, and winters in Africa. It is a brood parasite, which means it lays eggs in the nests of other bird species, particularly of dunnocks, meadow pipits, and reed warblers. Although its eggs are larger than those of its hosts, the eggs in each type of host nest resemble the host's eggs. The adult too is a mimic, in its case of the sparrowhawk; since that species is a predator, the mimicry gives the female time to lay her eggs without being seen to do so.

The common cuckoo is 32–34 centimetres (13–13 in) long from bill to tail (with a tail of 13–15 centimetres (5.1–5.9 in) and a wingspan of 55–60 centimetres (22–24 in). The legs are short. It is greyish with a slender body and long tail and can be mistaken for a falcon in flight, where the wingbeats are regular. During the breeding season, common cuckoos often settle on an open perch with drooped wings and raised tail. There is a rufous colour morph, which occurs occasionally in adult females but more often in juveniles.

All adult males are slate-grey; the grey throat extends well down the bird's breast with a sharp demarcation to the barred underparts. The iris, orbital ring, the base of the bill and feet are yellow. Grey adult females have a pinkish-buff or buff background to the barring and neck sides, and sometimes small rufous spots on the median and greater coverts and the outer webs of the secondary feathers.

Rufous morph adult females have reddish-brown upperparts with dark grey or black bars. The black upperpart bars are narrower than the rufous bars, as opposed to rufous juvenile birds, where the black bars are broader.

Common cuckoos in their first autumn have variable plumage. Some have strongly-barred chestnut-brown upperparts, while others are plain grey. Rufous-brown birds have heavily barred upperparts with some feathers edged with creamy-white. All have whitish edges to the upper wing-coverts and primaries. The secondaries and greater coverts have chestnut bars or spots. In spring, birds hatched in the previous year may retain some barred secondaries and wing-coverts. The most obvious identification features of juvenile common cuckoos are the white nape patch and white feather fringes.

Common cuckoos moult twice a year: a partial moult in summer and a complete moult in winter. Males weigh around 130 grams (4.6 oz) and females 110 grams (3.9 oz). The common cuckoo looks very similar to the Oriental cuckoo, which is slightly shorter-winged on average.


Common Cuckoo's facts

Did you know?

  • Some taxonomists put hoatzins, known for it's unique claws as a chick, in the cuckoo family.
  • The cuckoo family also contains the roadrunners.
  • Hearing the call is said to mark the coming of spring.
  • Barred pattern and grey-brown colouration mimics the sparrowhawk - giving them more time to lay their eggs in their hosts' nests.
  • Cuckoos internally incubate their eggs for 24 hours, giving them a head-start over the rest of the nest.

Common Cuckoo's Behavior & Ecology

Common Cuckoo feeds primarily on insects and caterpillars. These hairy caterpillars are rejected by the other birds’ species. But in order to avoid to be poisoned, the cuckoo bites one end of the insect and slices it open with the bill, and then, it shakes it to extract the toxic matter before to swallow it. The hairs of the caterpillar are regurgitated later in pellets. 
Common Cuckoo feeds in woodlands where it also catches large insects (cicadas - locusts) and numerous kinds of preys, including spiders. It also takes eggs and chicks in the nests where the female lays her own eggs.

Common Cuckoo is a shy bird, often seen alone outside breeding season. At this time, they become noisier, both male and female uttering their calls.
Common Cuckoo perches in exposed tree or pole, with cooked and spread tail, and drooped wings.

Common cuckoos undertake vast migrations, wintering in central Africa before travelling thousands of miles to Europe and Africa. Having spend the spring and summer months breeding and parasitising nests they then leave for Africa around the end of September.

Common Cuckoo's Feeding

The common cuckoo's diet consists of insects, with hairy caterpillars, which are distasteful to many birds, being a specialty of preference. It also occasionally eats eggs and chicks.

Common Cuckoo's Reproduction

The common cuckoo is an obligate brood parasite; it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. At the appropriate moment, the hen cuckoo flies down to the host's nest, pushes one egg out of the nest, lays an egg and flies off. The whole process takes about 10 seconds. A female may visit up to 50 nests during a breeding season. Common cuckoos first breed at the age of two years.

Female common cuckoos are divided into gentes – groups of females favouring a particular host species' nest and laying eggs that match those of that species in color and pattern.

Common Cuckoo's Conservation

Common Cuckoo is an occasional visitor to Maldives. All migratory birds are protected by law in Maldives.

Although the common cuckoo's global population appears to be declining, it is classified of being of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN). It is estimated that the species numbers between 25 million and 100 million individuals worldwide, with around 12.6 million to 25.8 million of those birds breeding in Europe. 

Common Cuckoo's Relationship with Humans

The common cuckoo still occupies notoriety in songs, literature, anatomy text books and popular culture, and it has attained iconic status in the cuckoo clock; the bird’s calls marking the passage of time, from hour to hour, the whole year round. Currently, new evidence suggests that common cuckoo can also play a role in conservation.

Common Cuckoo habitat

The species inhabits forests and woodlands, both coniferous and deciduous, second growth, open wooded areas, wooded steppe, scrub, heathland, meadows, reedbeds, lowlands and moorlands. In north-west Europe it breeds between May and June. It is a brood parasite; host species include many insectivorous songbirds such as flycatchers, chats, warblers, pipits, wagtails and buntings. Over 100 host species have been recorded. The species feeds on insects, spiders and snails and rarely on fruit. Individuals of the nominate race breeding from the British Isles and Scandinavia east to Russia winter in central and southern Africa. Individuals of the bangsi race that breed in Iberia spend the winter south of the equator from west Africa to Lake Tanganyika. Individuals of the nominate and bakeri races breeding in Asia winter in India, south-east Asia, the Philippines and Africa. Individuals of the subtelephonus race migrate through the Middle East and winter in Africa (Payne and Christie 2013).

Common Cuckoo threats

Declines in northern Europe have been attributed to the intensification of agriculture, resulting in fewer insects and hosts. Climate change is also an important factor where short-distance migrating host species have advanced their arrival more than the cuckoos resulting in a mismatch of nesting times (Erritzøe et al. 2012).

Common Cuckoo's status