When the cukoo calls, summer draws nearer.

The coming of the cuckoo


When the cukoo calls, summer draws nearer.

About the time you are reading this, other folk all through the Irish countryside will be excitedly getting in touch with their local newspapers and radio stations claiming to have heard the first cuckoo of 2014.

It happens every year without fail and the coming of the cuckoo, that most mythical of all our wild birds, always generates a joyous kind of excitement in that her courting call signals that winter is over at last and the summer's not far ahead.  

I have not heard her yet myself but April is her month.  The old saying is that she comes in April, sings in May and leaves us then in June for warmer climes.  

When living in Connemara some decades ago, near the Barna boglands, I not alone would have heard her by now but would have actually seen her as well, not just once but several times over.  

She always looked like a cross between a small wood pigeon and a rather large thrush, and there was always one or two small angry birds flying chatteringly after her.  As well they might given her appalling social record in their feathered circles. 

It is for that reason I have never been that fond of her myself, even though her somehow serene sound on an April evening is truly special.  But the live facts are that she is a witchbitch and a squatter and a lazy spoiler and opportunist and even a killer. 

It was only recently I learned a few extra facts about the cuckoo which were quite shocking.  I always knew, for example, that she never builds her own nest but squats in another bird's warm new nest and lays her egg there. 

I did not know that she might squat in more than 20 nests in a single nesting season, leaving 20 eggs behind her to be hatched out by others. And I did not know that she commonly throws the original eggs out of the host nest before substituting her own. 

And I did not know either that she lays her eggs with the same color and markings as the originals. A cute lady indeed.   

And what I also learned was that the young cuckoos when they hatch out are already greatly anti-social.  They have been filmed using their ugly stubby winglets to throw other eggs out of the nest so there will be less competition for the incoming food being supplied by the foster-parents. 

They even throw other fledglings out of the nest in the most horrific fashion and, as cute as their mother, can and do mimic the "feed me!" calls of the host species. 

Being large and voracious, their presence actually dramatically shortens the life span of their extremely frazzled and hassled foster parents who, at season's end, have worked all through the summer feeding a migrant who flies away without a note of thanks and leaves them without any chick of their own at all.

So, yes, I will note again the first time I hear the courting call of a cuckoo any day now. And I will be glad to have survived another hard winter. And I will note the silken serenity of the sound of her. 

But, fundamentally, I will feel very sorry in my heart and soul for all the smaller breeding birds trying to survive and thrive in the hedges and ditches and forests amongst which the immoral squatter and robber roams.


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