Beautiful start to the day on the forest this morning. The sun is high, the breeze is cool and everything is fresh. The birds are singing and the cuckoo is calling in the background.
It is only the male cuckoo that makes the sound we all recognise as the beginning of spring. The females make almost a chuckling noise which mimics a bird of prey. In fact, the cuckoos are the ultimate mimics!
They are often mistaken for a sparrow hawk with their speckled plumage and hawk-like features. They are known as parasitic birds because the female will lay her egg in a host nest. They tend to prefer warblers or pipits nests and will wait and watch for the parents to leave the nest. As they do, the cuckoo will fly in remove an egg from the nest and lay her own, then chuckle off in flight. Each individual female will have her preference to which bird species she will use as a host and will lay eggs with a matching colour and pattern. When the egg hatches 11 days later, the chick will get to work pushing the other eggs and chicks out of the nest. You may wonder why such small birds will continue to feed such a large chick? This is where the cuckoos mimic comes into play once more. Most birds are not driven by the size of the chick but by the hungry calls from their brood. The cuckoo chicks call mimics the sound of a hungry brood of chicks which makes the hosts feed it driven by instinct. After the cuckoo has fledge it will be feed by the host for another couple of weeks.
By this time the adult cuckoos are already heading back to Africa after never meeting their offspring. A few weeks later the young will follow on their first epic journey guided by the magnetic field of the earth and the nights sky.