Friday, 1 May 2009

Cuckoo; Brood parasitis.

Yesterday Roy (The Fenlandwalker) posted “Chasing the Cuckoo” and he made the following comment: "These are unusual and somewhat lazy birds as they don't make a nest nor do they rear their young. The female lays approximately 9 to 10 eggs (one in each different nest) of other smaller birds such as the Reed Warbler. When the Cuckoo egg hatches the fledgling cuckoo turfs out all the other eggs in the nest and the poor old Reed Warbler rears the single cuckoo until it flies."

Other species that are commonly ‘brood parasitised’ by the Cuckoo are Meadow Pipit and the Dunnock.

This lead me to recall that over 5 years ago I was told that a juvenile Cuckoo had been seen in the gardens at RHS Wisley so I made two separate visits to Seven Acres with my trusty old Olympus OM1 and here are the results, a little rough, as they were scanned from the original photos. It didn't take me long to locate the begging call 'sree, sree, sree' much like other small birds but very penetrating, and here it was perched for a photo call.
The young Cuckoo eventually moved to the ground, but why?
Check out what happened next...
An activity I had never seen before, a tiny Dunnock feeding the juvenile Cuckoo! Unfortunately the action was so brief (Dunnock out of focus!) that I didn't get another opportunity as the Dunnock flew off, probably already overworked by the Cuckoo's veracious appetite, to find another meal.
All I need to do now is get a decent photo of an adult Cuckoo then I can explain why, when in flight or perched, they are often mistaken for something else, such as a Sparrowhawk or even a Pigeon.


  1. Fantastic images,great shots.
    Love your Blog.

  2. Hi Frank,
    Still the last picture is terribly impressive and one can imagine the poor dunnock task to make this bog guy fly!!! Still it is nature, very impressive but it is nature ;-)

  3. JRandSue. Thanks & hoping John feels better.

    Chris. You are quite right, this is nature in the 'raw' so to speak.

  4. Excellent set of shots Frank. You must have been really pleased with those.
    That last one is something most people would never see, let alone capture like that.
    Gotta feel for that poor Dunnock though. He must have workeed his socks off raising that baby.

  5. Well! That coo coo bird is something else! I'd be kind of mad if I saw that..Ha! Isn't it amazing how that tiny bird feeds it though?! Great photos

  6. Wow, that is totally amazing! One never knows what one might see. Great series of photos! Thank you.

  7. When I first saw those photos I thought "That's no cuckoo, that's a whip-poor-will or some other nightjar!" Looks soooo very different from our Cuckoos in the states (granted, it's immature, but still, a big difference). That poor tiny bird trying to feed that monster of a child that's not even hers... Brood parasitism is an unfortunate thing.

  8. Wonderful pictures. It's amazing what you can get it you are in the right spot at the right time.

  9. Oh my goodness, Frank...that is the coolest photograph! You captured such a sweet moment. The poor little mama Dunnock is so tiny she must have work overtime to the point of exhaustion to keep her very large "offspring" fed and growing.

  10. What a great opportunity Frank. It never fails to amaze me that the "host" bird brings up the cuckoo chick as their own. The difference in their size (in this case) is so apparent from your picture. Amazing!

  11. Wonderful shots. I love the one where it is feeding the baby bird. I can't believe it was doing it right out there in the open so you could get a photo as great as that. We have our own birds who like to lay eggs in others nests and that is the brown headed cowbird.

  12. That is so amazing. Even worse than the dreaded Cowbird here who does the same thing. You have to wonder what in the DNA makeup makes these little guys take this baby as their own?

  13. When you look at the amount of work the Cuckoo has to do to get its egg in the hosts nest,it's clear they are not lazy at all.

    Cheers for the Garden Warbler info. They arrived today!

  14. Keith. I was absolutely delighted to capture a well talked about but not often seen feeding activity (except on wildlife films).

    Roy. Thanks for the lead story on this one, plus male Cuckoo sighted today. Cheers.

    Leedra, Ginnymo, Montanagirl, Kelly, Tricia. Thanks. The Dunnock is just doing what comes naturally but has to find large amounts of food.

    Heather. Yes, there is a similarity to a Nightjar but juv Cuckoo does grow up & changes appearance, although bigger than Yellow-billed etc & has smaller bill.

    Carol. Luck does sometimes pay a part.

    Kim & Jayne. Thanks for the added info re Cowbird. When the Cuckoo chick hatches it removes all the 'host' bird eggs out of the nest. Hence the parents just do what comes naturally without realising they are feeding an interloper!

    Warren. Glad to hear you ticked GW today.

  15. Fantastic photo - especially the last one. We have cuckoos out here too - different ones of course, and the adults of the species that it commonly uses the nests of chase them all the time. Once the egg has been laid and the adult cuckoo goes off the other species just raise the young. The different reaction to adults and juveniles is interesting.

  16. Thanks Mick.
    The nesting species obviously see the adult Cuckoo as a predator (threat) but accept the interloper as it's the ONLY chick left in the nest to be fed.

  17. Great spin-off post Frank! That is quite an odd bird with odd habits! Well done!

  18. You were really lucky to be in the right place at the right time, Frank. In 28 years of birding, I've never been lucky enough to witness this. Great series of shots.

  19. Hi Eve. Thanks for dropping in again at what must be a hectic time for you. Trust you are settling in to the new adode.

  20. Thanks Graham. Another 'chance encounter'. You never know what you may see tomorrow. Cheers.

  21. Excellent series, the last photo is very impressive, but I agree with Chris, it's pure nature. The Dunnock makes only her job.

  22. great series!! congratulations
    very good work!!

  23. Luis, thank you for your kind comment.
    Your blog has many, many stunning photos. Well done.
    Regards, Frank.


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