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Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) calls of the cuckoo? / I

Cuckoo ( Cuculus canorus ) calls of the cuckoo ? / i
Audio file / audio sample

Class : Birds (aves)
Order : Cuckoo birds (Cuculiformes)
Family : Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Genre : Cuckoo ( cuculus )
Type : cuckoo
Scientific name
Cuculus canorus
Linnaeus , 1758

The cuckoo ( Cuculus canorus ) belongs to the order of the cuckoo birds (Cuculiformes) and to the family of the cuckoos (Cuculidae). It occurs in North Africa and Eurasia from Portugal and Ireland east to Japan and Kamchatka. It is about the size of a dove and its plumage is mostly gray. In addition to the characteristic “gu-kuh” call, the species is generally known for its brood parasitism . The cuckoo lays its eggs one by one in the nests of smaller songbirds and does not care for the brood itself. The female cuckoo birds prefer individual host bird species and lay eggs that largely correspond to those of these species. The cuckoo cub, only a few hours old, removes the host parents' eggs and young birds and grows up alone in the nest.

The cuckoo is the namesake for other creatures that also practice brood parasitism, such as the cuckoo bumblebee or the cuckoo duck . In humans, children conceived out of wedlock are sometimes colloquially called cuckoo children . The cuckoo is also mentioned in idioms and music. In Switzerland he was bird of the year 2001 and in Germany and Austria bird of the year 2008.


It owes its name to the conspicuous reputation of the male cuckoo. Also in many other languages, such as French ( Coucou ), Italian ( cucú ), Spanish ( cuco , sometimes cuclillo ), Russian ( Kukuschka ), Greek ( koukoula ), English ( Cuckoo ), Polish ( Kukułka ), Hungarian ( kakukk ) and Latin ( cuculus ), the reputation was onomatopoeic integrated into his name. A rather outdated name for the cuckoo is Gauch , also Gutzgauch.


Male in flight
Cuckoo in flight

With a wingspan of 55 to 60 centimeters and a body length of 32 to 34 centimeters, the cuckoo is almost as big as a turtledove , but more delicate and slender. The weight of the male is 110–140 grams, that of the female 95–115 grams. The wings are pointed and the rounded tail is 13 to 15 inches long. In flight, the species looks similar to a sparrowhawk , but has more pointed wing tips. When seated, the cuckoo looks short-legged. The stepped tail is not infrequently fanned out and raised slightly, the wings are often left hanging apart a little.

Adult males are slate gray on top. The upper tail coverts have light gray, very thin, narrow end hems. The chin, throat, sides of the neck and the front chest are uniformly light gray and lighter than the upper side, the rest of the underside is white with broad gray-brown banding. The under tail coverts are white to isabel colored . The tail is dark slate gray with a clearly separated white end border. The iris , eyelid ring, and beak base are light yellow. In addition to this gray morph, there is also a red-brown one in the male, which is similar to that of the females.

Adult females occur in two color morphs. The gray morph is very similar to the males, but shows a rust beige to yellowish tint on the chest and thin, dark transverse bands. The brown morph is rarer and rust-brown on the top and breast. The entire plumage is cross-banded dark. The tail is banded brown and dark and has a thin white band at the end. The iris, eyelid ring and beak base are light brown.

The young birds are slate gray, some with a rusty brown tint. The entire plumage is thin, dark, transversely banded. The small and large wing coverts have narrow white borders. The iris is dark brown, the eyelid ring is pale yellow, and the base of the beak is light. Young birds can be recognized by the white spot on the neck.

In both morphs and in juvenile dress, the legs are yellow and the beak is horn gray with the exception of the base.

The appearance of the cuckoo is similar to that of the sparrow or the kestrel and is a form of mimicry in order to simulate the presence of a bird of prey to the host birds and thus to drive them away from their nest.



The male's hunting ground is the eponymous call "gu-kuh", whereby the first syllable is emphasized. This cuckoo call can be heard from afar and is performed from a high waiting room from April to July.

The pitches of the two syllables are usually a minor third apart, but the interval can also be a second to a fifth . The tones lie between the semitones of the scale and correspond approximately to f ″ (678 Hz ) and d ″ (565 Hz), as was determined from the calls of seven cuckoo men. The beak is slightly open on the first syllable and closed on the second. The pauses between the calls depend on the arousal of the calling male. The more excited, the shorter the breaks. In the case of very high levels of excitement, there may also be multi-syllabic, overturning "cuckoo ..." calls.

The female can be, when energized, the breeding season a trill-like sound to hear the accented hard from a fast sequence of sounds is and some of the little grebe recalls. More rarely it expresses a loud giggle that sounds like "hach hachhach". From the fourth day after hatching, young birds beg with "zisisis" or "srisrisri ...". With increasing age, this begging call becomes a "gigigi ...". If the host parents are absent, the distant begging call “ziii ziii” or “sriii sriii” is issued.

Habitat and Distribution

Spread of the cuckoo .:
  • Breeding areas
  • migration
  • Wintering areas
  • Probably breeding area
  • The cuckoo occurs in all climatic zones of the western Palearctic . It inhabits cultural landscapes as well as biotopes above the tree line , the dunes of the sea coasts and almost all habitats in between: light deciduous and coniferous forests , swamp forests or even raised bogs and steppes . It does not occur in the arctic tundra and in extensive dense forests. The occurrence of the birds that serve as hosts for it during reproduction is decisive. Adequate small structures such as bushes, hedges, isolated trees and places to sit on must be available in its habitat. It has been detected in Switzerland up to around 2400 meters and in India in exceptional cases up to 5250 meters. It is also found on the outskirts of cities.

    The cuckoo occurs in Eurasia from Western Europe and North Africa to Kamchatka and Japan . The nominate form Cuculus c. canorus is widespread throughout Europe with the exception of Iceland , the far north of Scandinavia and the north-eastern part of the Baltic States. The northern limit of distribution of the species runs along the northern edge of the taiga from northern Norway to Kamchatka, roughly along the northern polar circle . To the east of the Caspian Sea to Lake Balkhash , most of Kazakhstan is not populated, as is a large area southwest of Lake Baikal to Kashmir . The southern limit of distribution to the Himalayas extends approximately along the 40th degree of latitude .


    The cuckoo is a long-distance migrant , it mostly migrates at night. His winter quarters are in Africa south of the equator . There he prefers to stay near watercourses in tropical areas or savannas with acacia trees . Adult and young birds leave Germany at the beginning of August and usually return in the second half of April. After a journey of around 7100 km in autumn with stops in Poland, Hungary and Greece for around a month each and a flight over the Sahara in the area between Egypt and Libya, the Scandinavian cuckoos hibernate with a course tailored to the abundant food supply after the rainy season in Africa : After a one and a half month recovery phase in the eastern Sahel zone, they stay for three months in forest areas in south-western Central Africa and in February start their 9100 km flight to their breeding areas with stops in Ghana, the Ivory Coast, West Africa and Italy. The migratory movements have recently also been investigated more closely using satellite telemetry .

    The arrival time on return depends on the geographical latitude : In southern Europe, the cuckoos arrive in the breeding area as early as March, in southern Scandinavia by the beginning of May and in northern Scandinavia even in July. In Germany, the cuckoo arrives from mid-April to the beginning of May, in addition to the core time of the arrival phase, there are also early arrivals from the end of March, whereby the arrival also depends on the temperatures from year to year.


    The cuckoo almost exclusively eats insects. Most of them are eaten by caterpillars , including hairy ones and those with warning colors that are not eaten by other birds. Beetles are also part of its diet ; dragonflies , grasshoppers , earwigs , bed bugs , flies and hymenoptera are more rarely preyed on.

    Other foods are spiders , millipedes , earthworms , snails and young frogs and toads . Females also consume the eggs of possible host birds. The nestlings are fed a wide range of food by the respective host birds, depending on what they normally feed their own young. This food consists largely of insects, it must be largely animal in any case. There is no evidence that non-insectivorous passerines in Europe successful young birds of the cuckoo have raised.


    The sexual maturity occurs in the second year. The type of pair bond has not yet been clearly clarified. It is likely promiscuity as there is no evidence of prolonged monogamous couple bonding.

    The adult cuckoos usually arrive after the host birds in the breeding areas , so that they have already occupied their territories. The male is usually in the breeding area more than a week before the female.



    The male and female of the cuckoo are territorial birds. Males occupy a territory that is about 30 hectares in size and that can overlap with that of other males. Females also compete with one another for territories that offer a wide range of nests of suitable host birds and that have a sufficient density of hedges and trees from which the female cuckoo can spy out the nests of the host birds. In smaller areas, in which the number of nests of the host birds is not very high, a single female can definitely occupy a territory alone. Typically, however, areas with a large number of potential host nests attract several female cuckoos, so that a single female cannot defend his territory. It is therefore more typical that the territories of females also overlap and a dominant female lays the most eggs. The fact that areas are not occupied by a single female is also due to the fact that good breeding areas with a large number of potential host areas do not necessarily offer sufficient food for cuckoos. In some regions there was a distance of 23 kilometers between the feeding areas and the breeding grounds. A female is therefore often absent from her breeding area for a long time and cannot defend her area during this time.

    If a dominant female dies, its territory is quickly taken over by another female, and some of the host nests are parasitized by more than one female cuckoo.


    Male cuckoos lure females with the cuckoo call. When a female approaches, the pauses between the calls become shorter. The male nods his head, spreads his wings, lets them hang down and fans out his tail. With increasing excitement and after pursuit flights, the male's head nod changes into deep bows with the whole body. If the female is very close, the male will swing back and forth with the raised, non-fanned tail. The female is then followed silently over a long period of time, with raised waiting areas being approached. The male can also present grass, small twigs or caterpillars, but these are not handed over to the female, but are laid down or dropped in front of the latter. When the female is ready for copulation , she inclines her front body and remains in this position during copulation.

    Egg laying

    The eggs are laid from the end of April to mid-July; it coincides within this range with the peak of the host birds' oviposition. The females find the host birds' nests through observation. They can often be seen several times in the vicinity of the host bird's nests on the day before the egg is laid - they obviously check how far the eggs have been laid in the host bird's nest. Female cuckoos prefer to lay in nests that already contain an egg, since host birds usually remove eggs if they have not yet started laying eggs themselves. Since some host birds start brooding before they have completed their clutch, the female cuckoo must lay its egg early enough for its offspring to hatch before the nest siblings if possible: removing eggs from the host's nest is easier for the young cuckoo than removing them hatched nest siblings. At the same time, because of its food requirements, the nestling is dependent on being raised by the host birds alone. About every other day an egg is laid in a different host clutch. Nests of suitable host birds are also plundered by female cuckoos when their clutch is too far advanced to raise a young cuckoo. With this behavior, which is only observed in female cuckoos, they induce host birds to create a second clutch, which increases the number of nests in which a female cuckoo could lay an egg.

    Before the actual egg-laying process, the female sits motionless for between 30 and 150 minutes on a branch that can be up to 100 meters away from the host bird's nest in order to find the right moment for egg-laying. Its eggs are laid within a few seconds and usually takes place from late afternoon to dusk. As soon as a female cuckoo lands in the nest, it takes one of the host bird's eggs in its beak, then lays the egg and flies up again; it carries an egg of the host bird in its beak.

    The female lays up to 25, on average 9 eggs. Usually only one egg is laid per host nest, rarely two. The majority of all eggs are laid in the nests of a host bird species. The average size of the eggs is 22.73 × 16.34 mm, determined from 1117 eggs of the nominate form of the cuckoo. This means that they are usually somewhat larger than the eggs of the host birds. In terms of color and pattern, the cuckoo eggs resemble the clutch very well, as the following illustrations of clutches with cuckoo eggs show.

    The coloration of the cuckoo's eggs is adapted to the respective host by replicating the pigmentation of the eggshells in their chemical composition ( biliverdin and protoporphyrin in different proportions) by the cuckoo. Adaptation is sustained by the female cuckoos' strong preference for certain host bird species. There are host-specific female lines, but no host-specific races, as there is no host-specificity in the males.

    How it is possible for the female cuckoo to match the laid eggs with the clutch was clarified in the case of the bluish eggs: the females have both the preference on their W sex chromosomes (as with other birds, females have ZW chromosomes, males ZZ chromosomes) for a certain host bird species (e.g. the common redstart with a bluish clutch) as well as the color (bluish) and pattern (uniform) of the egg. The males carry no genetic information regarding egg color, pattern and host species.

    As recent studies have shown, the cuckoo's body temperature of approx. 40 degrees causes the cuckoo to incubate the egg in the womb. This gives the cuckoo chicks up to 31 hours ahead of the young of the host species.

    The shell of cuckoo eggs is usually thicker than that of host bird eggs. This has the advantage that it is more difficult (especially for smaller) host bird species, once they have identified the egg, to chop a hole into it in order to then remove it from the nest, but at the same time it means that the cuckoo chick is already at the same time despite a strong egg tooth Hatching makes an enormous effort.

    Host bird species

    Preferred hosts of the cuckoo are reed warblers , warblers , pipiters , wagtails , brown flies , red- backed shrimp , wren and redstart . Altogether more than 100 host bird species are known in Central Europe, of which only 45 are successfully rearing, the others are false hosts . The host bird species have been precisely documented in eight regions of Europe, with regional differences in the preferred host birds:

    A cuckoo nestling removes an egg from the nest of its host birds
    • UK: 1145 parasitized nests were examined between 1939 and 1982. 90% of the nests belonged to five different species, the reed warbler was preferred in wetlands, the meadow pipit in heather and moorland areas, the robin and dunnock in open regions in forest and hedge- lined agricultural areas .
    • Finland: The most important host bird species were redstart , white wagtail, mountain finch , fitis and chiffchaff . Together they were the host bird species in 369 nests examined in 60% of the cases.
    • Sweden: Bachstelze, Wiesenpieper, Baumpieper , whitethroat and Gartenrotschwanz (together 64% of 222 parasitized nests).
    • Norway: Meadow pipit (89% of 27 nests examined).
    • Germany: Red-backed Shrike , wagtail, Wren , garden warbler and barred warbler (together 88% of 925 parasitized nests).
    • France: white wagtail, robin, dunnock, wren and reed warbler (76% of 46 parasitized nests)
    • Czech Republic and Slovenia: European robins, reed warbler and white wagtail (70% of 1870 parasitized nests)
    • Russia: white wagtail, redstart, and warbler (53% of 477 parasitized nests)

    The size of the host bird species varies in the case of the wren from a body length of 11 centimeters and a weight of 8 grams to a body length of 17 to 19 centimeters and a weight of 32 grams in the case of the red backed warbler and the great reed warbler. They are all much smaller than the cuckoo with its average body length of 33 centimeters and weight of 110 grams. The host bird species are insectivores.

    Parasitized clutches are abandoned by the host birds in 10 to 30% of cases. Host bird species also show aggressive behavior towards the cuckoo. Adult reed warblers, for example, attack a cuckoo near the nest and tear out their feathers, for example. This aggressive behavior then subsides when the reed warbler fledglings have flown out. It is known from the even larger and more defensive reed warbler as well as shrike species that they can injure or drown female cuckoos considerably or in individual cases fatally.

    Since some host bird species seem to have developed efficient defense mechanisms and often identify cuckoo eggs, they are rarely parasitized in the predominant cuckoo's distribution area, although they are frequently haunted in the past. B. blackcap , red backed killer , chiffchaff or goldhammer .

    Degree of parasitization

    Young cuckoo in a tree pipit's nest

    The cuckoo is not a common bird, so the percentage of nests parasitized by the cuckoo is generally relatively small. Only with the main hosts do more than 1% of the nests also contain a cuckoo's egg. For the whole of Great Britain, for example, the degree of parasitism in reed warblers is 5% (in 6927 nests examined), 2% in dunnock (out of 23,352 nests examined), 3% in meadow beepers (out of 5331 nests examined) and less than 0.5% in robins ( 12917 examined nests) and wagtails (4945 examined nests).

    Since cuckoos occur differently in different regions, the degree of parasitization can be much higher in individual regions. In the south of Wales, reed warbler nests are almost never parasitized, whereas in the wetlands in the east of England the degree of parasitization of reed warbler nests can be 20 percent. In the south of Finland, between 1975 and 1983, 430 redstart nests were found to have a parasitic degree of 44 percent. The degree of parasitization in the great reed warbler along a 20-kilometer stretch of the Körös river in Hungary was similarly high (study period 1935 to 1944, 504 nests). From 1970 to 1980, an average of 16.4% of all swamp warbler nests in an area near Hamburg were parasitized, a minimum of 5.3% in one year and a maximum of 20%. Marsh warbler are also the host birds that most often recognize cuckoo eggs that have been pushed beneath them and remove them from the nest (according to studies in South Moravia , the cuckoo only had a breeding success of 4% in this bird species). A hatched cuckoo chick sitting in the nest - unlike eggs, which are sometimes removed - is rarely rejected; Sometimes young cuckoos are abandoned by foster parents, especially the reed warbler, because their chicks would leave the nest after eleven days, but the cuckoo needs at least 18 days. After leaving the nest it can happen that the young cuckoo is attacked as an enemy by the foster parents; however, as soon as he starts his begging calls, he is supplied with food again.

    Hatching and rearing of the young birds

    The young cuckoo is sometimes significantly larger than its foster parents , here a reed warbler

    The young cuckoo hatches after a very short incubation period of around twelve days. Most of the time it hatches in front of the host's young, seldom have some or, far more rarely, all of the host's young hatched. Around eight to ten hours after hatching, the young cuckoo moves back and forth in the nest until an egg or young bird is pushed to one side of the nest. This is supported by a particularly touch-sensitive pit on the back between the shoulders and by outstretched wings. He then spreads his strong legs and bends his head forward so that it almost touches his stomach, or leans against the inner edge of the nest. Then he slowly pushes the egg or young bird over the edge of the nest. The young cuckoo seems to swell, the veins on the neck and wings stand out clearly. The head then jerks backwards and forwards. The young cuckoo takes short breaks between these efforts. When the edge of the nest is reached, the wings are placed on the edge and the host's egg or young bird is pushed over the edge of the nest with a short, shaking jerk. The whole process takes about three and a half minutes and is repeated until the young cuckoo is finally left alone in the nest. This behavior usually lasts for the first two to four days in the life of a cuckoo chick, rarely up to seven days after hatching. The depth of the nest bowl does not matter as long as the walls do not drop too steeply. This exhausting activity demands a lot from the cuckoo nestling: During this time it consumes little food, risks falling out by itself, especially with open nests, grows more slowly and flies one day later.

    This behavior is also not without problems for the cuckoo nestling, since with most bird parents the amount of food brought in depends on the number of beaks unlocked in the nest, the key stimulus that triggers the feeding. The cuckoo nestling can imitate the missing nest siblings with quick calls and thus receives more food. (According to other studies, the benefit of this behavior does not lie in the fact that a cuckoo chick would be the only nest inhabitant to get more food and not have to share. Rather, young birds of many host species fledged when they were smaller and leave the nest earlier. Outside the nest they would then the young cuckoo who stayed behind was not taken care of.) These calls start from the age of about four days and get stronger from the seventh day. The large orange-red throat of the cuckoo's nest has a strong irritant effect. Sometimes other birds of other species take part in the feeding. From around 11 days onwards, the young cuckoo becomes increasingly active and from the 16th day onwards also turns towards the host parents when feeding. The young bird fledged after about 20 days, then it flies to meet its host parents and is fed outside the nest for several weeks. If host bird chicks that have been thrown out or transported to the edge of the nest succeed in climbing back into the nest hollow, or due to deep, i.e. H. steeply shaped nests, cave nests of the host birds or broods in nesting boxes the young cuckoo can only partially or not at all remove the host bird's eggs or the hatched nestlings from the nest, the young cuckoos grow more slowly if they have to share their food with their step-siblings, fly out up to four days later and are lighter in weight. The losses are correspondingly higher in these cases.

    Internal system

    There are four, poorly differentiated subspecies :

    Inventory and inventory development

    In Europe, the population of the nominate form is estimated at 4.2 to 8.6 million breeding pairs. The population in Central Europe is around 360,000 to 550,000 pairs. Between 42,000 and 69,000 couples live in Germany.

    There are only a few inventory surveys available over long periods of time, but the fluctuations in the population are related to those of the host birds. Local stocks can fluctuate by over 100% from year to year.

    Almost all countries in Western and Central Europe have been reporting declining stocks for a long time. In England the population has decreased by almost 60 percent over the past 30 years. The cuckoo has also become rarer in some parts of Germany. Only in Eastern Europe does the population appear to be stable.

    Hazard and protection


    The cuckoo is on the warning list of the red list of breeding birds in Germany. The IUCN indicates the worldwide status with Least Concern (= not endangered). The cuckoo was classified as endangered in the Red List of Endangered Breeding Birds of Lower Saxony and Bremen.

    The main cause of the decline of the cuckoo is the thinning of the populations of its host birds. This is a consequence of the destruction and loss of habitats due to the clearing of the agricultural landscape . Furthermore, the sharp decline in butterflies and cockchafer beetles due to the increasing use of pesticides and the loss of habitats and food crops has a negative effect on the cuckoo population.

    Possible protective measures are the extensification of agriculture, compensatory measures for the consumption of habitats, the protection or restoration of diverse border structures and flower-rich borders in the agricultural landscape and the restriction of the use of biocides so that the populations of host birds and food animals can recover.

    Climate change could also have a negative impact on the cuckoo population. Some of its host birds, such as B. the black redstart and the robin , breed earlier than before, because in these species the time of migration and especially the start of breeding depends on the temperature. However, the cuckoo retains its migration times, since as a long-distance migrant it mainly orientates itself on the length of the day. This makes it difficult for him to find nests that are at the beginning of the brood. But that is necessary for the rearing of its brood. The young cuckoo has to be the first to hatch in order to be able to throw the other eggs of its host birds out of the nest.

    Cultural history


    In Greek mythology, the cuckoo is associated with the goddess Hera .

    History of science

    Greek natural philosophers have as early as 400 BC. BC commented on the brood parasitism of the cuckoo, the Greek comedy poet Aristophanes named his fictional city in his play The Clouds (Nephelai), in which everyone lives without duties and worries, even cloud cuckoo country (Nephelococcygia). Allusions to the cuckoo can also be found in Old English poetry. For example, the 10th century Exeter Book contains a riddle that alludes to the cuckoo and the fact that it is not raised by its own parents. For Geoffrey Chaucer , in the poem The Parliament of Foules (c. 1382), the young cuckoo is a symbol of greed. For John Clanvowe , another 14th century English poet, the cuckoo, who grows up without parental care, represents a life without love. In the English language, to cuckold stands for the man who has been betrayed by his wife, accordingly the cuckoo is often mentioned by Shakespeare when he wants to allude to adultery.

    Cuculus canorus 1.jpg

    European naturalists questioned the reasons for the behavior of the cuckoo very early on. The English cleric Edward Topsell explained in his The Fowles of Heaven in 1614 the brood parasitism of the cuckoo with the miraculous work of God. The Creator has compensated for the lack of parental instincts of this bird species in his benevolent way by the fact that other birds would take over the task of raising his young for him. The French anatomist François David Hérissant (1752) and the British pastor and ornithologist Gilbert White (1789) could only explain the cuckoo's lack of parental care by an anatomical defect that made it impossible for the cuckoo to hatch its eggs. The English country doctor Edward Jenner , who is mainly remembered today because he developed the modern vaccination against smallpox , refuted this thesis in 1788 through a practical experiment. He pushed two hatched wagtail eggs under a cuckoo nestling that was growing in the nest of a dunnock. These hatched successfully, which Jenner classified as evidence that the cuckoo is anatomically very well able to hatch eggs. Jenner, who was also the first to discover that cuckoo nests remove the host parents' eggs and juveniles from the nest, argued that the cuckoo stayed too short in its summer roosts to successfully raise its own young. In the marshland around Cambridge, the cuckoo only stays six weeks after laying eggs before it sets off for its winter quarters. But it would take eight weeks from the egg to the independent young bird. As early as 1824, the naturalist John Blackwall argued against it that the early migration of the cuckoo was more a consequence of brood parasitism than its cause, and also pointed out that the removal of other eggs and young birds by the newly hatched cuckoo was a sensible behavior in a brood parasite be. On the other hand, he was unable to explain the origin of this behavior. This was reserved for Charles Darwin , who in the eighth chapter of his major work On the Origin of Species , published in 1859 , explained the behavior of the cuckoo from an evolutionary development. He also pointed out the positive consequences of brood parasitism: the cuckoo, freed from parental care, can leave its summer areas earlier and the young bird grows up without food competitors. Darwin also argued that the host bird's acceptance of the cuckoo's egg was a misguided instinct.

    The similarity between the cuckoo's egg and the host bird's eggs has been known at least since the 18th century. Towards the end of the 19th century an attempt was made to clarify whether the female cuckoo birds are able to adapt the color of their eggs or whether, like other female birds, they lay eggs whose shell color is always the same. To find out, ornithologists such as August Carl Eduard Baldamus collected specific series of cuckoo eggs, which one could be sure that they each came from a female because of the territorial behavior of the species. As it turned out that the eggs of a female were similar, one was already sure at that time that the cuckoo specialized in each host bird species.

    The businessman and hobby ornithologist Edgar Chance extensively examined the behavior of individual female cuckoos between 1918 and 1925. He was able to prove that females actually prefer to seek out the nests of a host bird species, that they observe the nests of their host bird beforehand and that the eggs are laid directly in the host bird's nest within a few seconds. Since one observed again and again female cuckoos with an egg in their beak, it was previously thought possible that the female lays the egg sitting on the ground, then takes it in the beak and lays it in the nest of the host bird. Chance was able to prove that the eggs that female cuckoos carry in their beak are eggs from the clutch of the host bird. In 1921 he was even able to film the entire process of oviposition. The results of Chance's research are confirmed by a number of similar field studies. In a field study carried out near Hamburg in 1981, Karsten Gärtner was also able to show that 30 percent of marsh warbler nests were robbed by female cuckoos. These nests either contained complete clutches or even young nestlings. Only female cuckoos show this behavior. The reason for such activities is therefore not a need for food, but aims to motivate the songbirds to have a second clutch. In a previous study it had already been shown that female cuckoos lay a quarter of their eggs in clutches, which are laid by the host birds as a second attempt at breeding after the first clutch has been lost.

    Sayings and songs

    The cuckoo has become proverbial because of two peculiarities: on the one hand due to its peculiar characteristic courtship call, the contrast of its enormous vocal strength and the inconspicuous external appearance and on the other hand due to its brood-parasitic way of life.

    "Give someone a cuckoo's egg " = slip something on someone else

    The cuckoo and the cuckoo's egg appear in many idioms, with cuckoo often being a disguise word for the devil , i.e. used as a substitute word when the devil is not to be named literally. This paraphrase, which can be found from the 16th century , was used because it was feared that naming his name would call the devil.


    • "Shear the fuck!" - "Shear the devil!"
    • "Does the cuckoo know ..." - "At most the devil knows." (Nobody knows.)
    • "The cuckoo is loose!" - "The devil is loose." (It is very busy.)
    • "Damn it again!" - "To the devil!"
    • “The cuckoo will get it!” - “The devil will get it!” (I don't care.)

    On the other hand, the cuckoo also arouses spring fever - you usually hear the first cuckoo calls from the end of March to the beginning of April - and is a herald of the end of winter, as in the following customs:

    • Grab your pocket when you hear the cuckoo for the first time in the year. You will have as much money as you have with you all year round. If you don't have anything with you, things look bad financially for the following year. - In some areas it is also believed that if you knock on it when the cuckoo calls, your wallet will not be empty all year round.
    • Accordingly, the number of cuckoo calls tells you how long you have to live as soon as you have asked the question ("Cuckoo, cuckoo, tell me how many 'years' do I still live?" - Low German: "Cuckoo in Hewen where long schall ik lewen? ").
    Belarusian postage stamp

    Well-known songs about the cuckoo are cuckoo, cuckoo, calls it from the forest as well as the folk tune on a tree a cuckoo . The minor third of the cuckoo's call also found its way into the tonal language of classical music , as in Beethoven's 6th Symphony in F major, "Pastorale" (scene by the brook) , Leopold Mozart's children 's symphony , Vivaldi's summer and many other works of sound-speaking music, especially in Baroque and Romantic.

    There is also the folksong about the cuckoo's way of singing about the competition between the cuckoo and the nightingale from Des Knaben Wunderhorn , in which the donkey declares the cuckoo the victor because it sings according to the rules of musical theory (“Der Kukuk then began quickly · His sang through thirds and fourths and fifths. "), while the free jubilee of the nightingale is too incomprehensible for the donkey (" You're making me pissed off! I-yes! I-yes! I can't get it in my head! “) - Gustav Mahler set this song to music as a praise of high intellect (No. 10 Humoresken / Lieder from Des Knaben Wunderhorn ), but also Johann Karl Gottfried Loewe as an art song. Another variant of the topos can be found in Fallersleben's The Cuckoo and the Donkey , in which the donkey and the cuckoo scream.

    The cuckoo is the "main actor" in a cuckoo clock , where this tone sequence is also used. In the cuckoo game , the name is more due to the regional difference between the verbs kucken and look .

    In Austria and still in Germany (although the coat of arms eagle is no longer used there), the seizure mark to indicate the judicial seizure of movable goods (contains the state coat of arms and the inscription “court seized”) is colloquial - especially in Vienna and there, mostly derogatory - called cuckoo .


    In heraldry , the cuckoo is a rare heraldic animal as a common figure . In the coat of arms it is not always clearly recognizable as a cuckoo. The description is binding. He is shown primarily with slightly spread wings and sitting on a surface (branch, twig). The coloring can take on all heraldic possibilities. His main line of sight is heraldically right .



    • H.-G. Bauer, E. Bezzel , W. Fiedler : The compendium of birds in Central Europe. Everything about biology, endangerment and protection. Volume 1: Nonpasseriformes - non-sparrow birds. 2. completely revised Edition. AULA-Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2005, ISBN 3-89104-647-2 .
    • Stanley Cramp , KEL Simmons: Handbook or the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa: the Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume 4: Terns to Woodpeckers. Oxford University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-19-857507-6 .
    • NB Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats . T & AD Poyser, London 2000, ISBN 0-85661-135-2 .
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    • Oldřich Mikulica, Tomáš Grim, Karl Schulze-Hagen, Bård G. Stokke: The cuckoo. Superlative crooks. Kosmos, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-440-15816-6
    • Karl Schulze-Hagen: Little known aspects of brood parasitism. It is not easy for a young cuckoo either. In: The falcon. Journal for bird watchers. Vol. 56, 12 (2009), pp. 449-455.
    • Lars Svensson , PJ Grant, K. Mullarney, D. Zetterström: The new cosmos bird guide - all species of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Franckh-Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-440-07720-9 .

    Web links

    Commons : Cuckoo  album with pictures, videos and audio files
    Commons : Cuckoo in Heraldry  - collection of images, videos and audio files

    Individual evidence

    1. NABU e. V. ( Memento from January 12, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
    2. Cramp & Simmons 1985, p. 402.
    3. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, p. 182.
    4. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, p. 183.
    5. NB Davies, JA Welbergen: Cuckoo-hawk mimicry? An experimental test. ( Memento of February 12, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) In: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 275, 2008, pp. 1817-1822, doi: 10.1098 / rspb.2008.0331 .
    6. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, p. 187.
    7. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, p. 189.
    8. Cramp & Simmons 1985, p. 403.
    9. z. B. Working Group Berlin-Brandenburg Ornithologists (ABBO): The bird world of Brandenburg and Berlin. Natur & Text, Rangsdorf 2001, p. 100.
    10. Cramp & Simmons 1985, p. 404.
    11. ^ WJM Hagemeijer, MJ Blair: The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds - their distribution and abundance. T & AD Poyser 1997, ISBN 0-85661-091-7 , pp. 396-397.
    12. C. Wernham, M. Toms, J. Marchant, JA Clark, GM Siriwardena, S. Baillie (eds.): The Migration Atlas: Movements of the birds of Britain and Ireland. T. & AD Poyser, London 2002.
    13. Cuckoos stay on course. Max Planck Society, January 8, 2014, accessed on June 28, 2020 .
    14. Cuckoo, where are you ?! - International satellite telemetry project of the LBV (European Cuckoo study) ( Memento from February 18, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), State Association for Bird Protection in Bavaria in cooperation with the British Trust for Ornithology , 2013/2014, accessed on February 17, 2014.
    15. a b c Karsten Gärtner: The interrelationships between the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) and the swamp reed warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) as an example of a breeding parasite-host relationship. Dissertation, University of Hamburg, 1981.
    16. Arrival of the cuckoo in Bavaria 2013. LBV, accessed on February 17, 2014.
    17. Cramp & Simmons 1985, p. 406.
    18. Cramp & Simmons 1985, p. 407.
    19. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, p. 216.
    20. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 37.
    21. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 38.
    22. a b Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 39.
    23. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. Pp. 38, 40.
    24. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, p. 199.
    25. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 47.
    26. Cramp & Simmons 1985, p. 413.
    27. a b c Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 34.
    28. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 31.
    29. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, p. 200.
    30. Branislav Igic et al .: A shared chemical basis of avian host – parasite egg color mimicry. In: Proc. R. Soc. B 279, 2012, pp. 1068-1076, doi: 10.1098 / rspb.2011.1718 .
    31. Jesus M. Aviles, Anders P. Möller: How is host egg mimicry maintained in the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)? In: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 82, 2004, pp. 57-68, doi: 10.1111 / j.1095-8312.2004.00311.x .
    32. ^ HL Gibbs, MD Sorenson, K. Marchetti, MD Brooke, NB Davies, H. Nakamura: Genetic evidence for female host-specific races of the common cuckoo. In: Nature. Volume 407, Number 6801, September 2000, ISSN  0028-0836 , pp. 183-186, doi: 10.1038 / 35025058 , PMID 11001055 .
    33. Frode Fossøy, Michael D. Sorenson, Wei Liang, Torbjørn Ekrem, Arne Moksnes, Anders P. Møller, Jarkko Rutila, Eivin Røskaft, Fugo Takasu, Canchao Yang, Bård G. Stokke: Ancient origin and maternal inheritance of blue cuckoo eggs . In: Nature Communications , Volume 7, Article Number 10272, January 12, 2016, doi: 10.1038 / ncomms10272 .
    34. Mikulica, p. 51
    35. Mikulica, pp. 79 f., 117 f.
    36. a b Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 27.
    37. a b c d e f g Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 28.
    38. Bauer et al. 2005, p. 688.
    39. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 57.
    40. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 58.
    41. O. Mikulica, T. Grim, K. Schulze-Hagen, BG Stokke: Der Kuckuck. Superlative crooks. Kosmos, Stuttgart 2017, p. 44
    42. Mikulica, p. 118
    43. a b c d Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 29.
    44. Mikulica, pp. 90 f., 89
    45. a b Cramp & Simmons p. 411.
    46. Mikulica; Pp. 81 f., 125
    47. ^ NB Davies, RM Kilner, DG Noble: Nestling cuckoos, "Cuculus canorus", exploit hosts with begging calls that mimic a brood. In: Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 265 (1397), 1998, pp. 673-678 doi: 10.1098 / rspb.1998.0346
    48. Mikulica, p. 91 f.
    49. Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1994, pp. 181-182.
    50. ^ BirdLife International: Birds in Europe. Population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 12. Wageningen NL 2002.
    51. ^ Gedeon et al .: Atlas of German breeding bird species. Atlas of German Breeding Birds. Vogelmonitoring Deutschland Foundation and Umbrella Association of German Avifaunists, Münster 2014.
    52. z. B. ABBO (Association of Berlin-Brandenburg Ornithologists): The bird world of Brandenburg and Berlin. Nature & Text, Rangsdorf 2001.
    53. ^ M. Binot, R. Bless, P. Boye, H. Gruttke, P. Pretscher: Red List of Endangered Animals in Germany. Bad Godesberg 1998.
    54. Cuculus canorus in the endangered Red List species the IUCN 2008. Retrieved on 30 October of 2008.
    55. Thorsten Krüger, Markus Nipkow: Red List of Endangered Breeding Birds in Lower Saxony and Bremen, 8th version, as of 2015 . Ed .: Lower Saxony State Agency for Water Management, Coastal Protection and Nature Conservation. tape 35 , no. 4 . Hanover April 2015, p. 195 .
    56. Bird of the Year - Cuckoo 2008 - Basic Info. (No longer available online.) In: October 5, 2007, archived from the original on January 12, 2008 ; Retrieved February 8, 2015 .
    57. a b c Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 3.
    58. a b Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 4.
    59. a b c d Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 5.
    60. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 50.
    61. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 8.
    62. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. P. 9.
    63. Davies: Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. Pp. 31, 32.
    64. Secrets of Nature: The Cuckoo's Secret (1922) . Wild film history. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
    65. Praise of the High Mind ,; Text also in Friedrich Karl von Erlach : The folk songs of the Germans. 3rd edition. 1835, p. 23 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
    66. ^ Website of the Austrian Federal Government. Accessed on February 24, 2016