August 7th   Leave a comment

It’s been a good year for cuckoos. I saw another couple this morning passing along the coast, heading eventually to central Africa. The first was at Balcomie. The Arctic terns weren’t happy and dived at it as if it was a merlin or a sparrowhawk. The second was at Kilminning, and the same thing happened except it was swallows mobbing it. I got on to the Kilminning cuckoo because the black-headed gulls roosting on the rocks flew up in alarm as if a raptor was coming. Cuckoos really do look hawk like. Why do cuckoos resemble sparrowhawks? I think it is because they don’t want to look like cuckoos. If a nesting host – a species that a cuckoo might parasitise by laying its eggs in its nest – see a cuckoo in the vicinity of its nest, it is very likely to desert rather than take the chance that it might raise a cuckoo chick. A sparrowhawk in the vicinity of a nest is only a danger to the parent, and the host is likely to leave the area to save itself. Leaving the cuckoo to its business and its egg swapping to go undetected. The drawback of this strategy for the cuckoo is that it gets mobbed the rest of the year. European cuckoos in Africa also get chased and mobbed by a whole suite of African host species. There is an African cuckoo, which is basically our cuckoo but that doesn’t migrate across the Sahara (you need a really good view, or to hear them call, to split the species), so it is another case of mistaken identity. Life’s a tradeoff and cuckoos may have abnegated their parental responsibilities, but it’s not easy being a cuckoo at other times. Never mind the juveniles’ first migration to Africa completely solo – all the adults are pretty much back in sub-Saharan Africa by now.

The juvenile cuckoo at Balcomie this morning. As usual completely unapproachable, and not in any case in a mood to hang around near a flock of angry Arctic terns

Posted August 7, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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