The Cuckoo: In May I sing night and day

The cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) whose numbers are in decline, can often be heard, but seldom seen. The familiar 'cuckoo' sound is the call of the male, with the female making a chuckling sound. When the cuckoo is seen it is often mistaken for a sparrowhawk because of its markings. It is a summer visitor to these shores, as this old rhyme tells:

In April I open my bill
In May I sing night and day
In June I change my tune
In July far far I fly
In August away I must

From mid July to August the adult birds return to Africa, followed by the juveniles in August and September.

The cuckoo is famous for being a brood parasite and targets a host nest where it quickly lays an egg whilst the host is away from the site. If there are any other eggs in the nest the female will often eject those to make way for her egg. The cuckoo generally targets a species that lays similarly coloured eggs. Another cunning trick that the cuckoo chick employs is to imitate the begging call of the host's chicks.

The diet of the cuckoo consists of caterpillars, often the hairy/highly coloured poisonous types that other bird species avoid, and beetles. The cuckoo has an adapted digestive system that can cope with these otherwise unpalatable snacks.

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