Species of the week

Cuculus canorus, a bird that parasites nests of other birds

Scientific Name: Cuculos canorus

Common name: Common Cuckoo

Class: Aves

Order: Cuculiformes

Family: Cuculidae

Average lifetime: Can live about 6-7 years in favorable conditions.

Conservation Status: Least Concern (LC)

Population: Tend to decrease


Feeds generally by insects, snails, arachnids and rarely by fruits.


Is a bird with a length ranging from 32 to 34 cm and 55 to 60 cm in wingspan (from the end of one wing to the end of the other). Generally, can weigh on average about 100 g as an adult.


Cuculus canorus is a Cuculiform bird generally with a long tail (almost the half of total body size), small head, curved beak and narrow and long and pointed wings. Sometimes can be mistaken with a Folk in flight.

It has a standard coloration that varies according to the body parts. The head, neck and the back of the bird, present a grayish/dark coloration and a white ventral part with black or brown bars forming transversal stripes. The tail has an almost black coloration with the ends of the feathers in white.


Cuculus canorus is a migratory species that during the summer migrate from Africa to Europe and Asia and on winter to Africa. Individuals of this species generally occur in different types of conifers and deciduous forests and woodlands during the reproductive period, and their occurrence is affected in part by the presence of hosts. During growth time, this species can be found in open wooded areas, wetlands, wooded savannas, grasslands, meadows and areas with human settlements.



Cuculus canorus is distributed from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Eastern Russia, passing through the British Islands, Scandinavia, Siberia, India, China, Vietnam and Japan. It spends the winter in Sub-Saharan Africa, in south of India, in South-East Asia, and in the Philippines.


Cuculus canorus is a brood parasite bird. This lay its eggs in different nests of host bird species, including insectivorous songbirds like, Melaenornis sp; Prunella modularis; Erithacus rubecula; Acrocephalus scirpaceus and other, trusting in the hosts to incubate their eggs and raise the juveniles to the independent stage.

Individuals of this species generally mate with more than one individual during reproduction season which comprises between May and June from their first or second years of age. In the beginning of the station, females search actively nests to parasite, where the host birds are in process of posture. The female of Cuculus canorus, lay only one egg similar to the hosts, although it is generally larger in size, and always takes one of the eggs or chicks that are already in the nest and ingest it. The Cuckoo´s egg presents 12 days of incubation period, generally less than the period of some host species. With 8 to 10 hours of life, the juvenile cuckoo removes the host eggs or chicks to outside of nests, so that it can be feed and grow alone. After 19 days of life, it becomes able to leave the host’s nests.


Intensive Agriculture that results in decreasing of insect populations and hosts is the main cause of declining of cuckoos populations. Climate change is also associated, causing advanced migration period of host birds leading to the nesting incompatibility of the cuckoos.

Conservation measures

The Cuculus canorus population is declining due to the intensive agriculture, mainly in North Europe. To minimize this problem, there is the need of promotion of traditional agriculture that protects and creates habitats and food sources to the host species. Plus, new investigations about climate changes effects and population monitoring programs of this species should be undertaken.


  • The common name of the species Cuculus canorus comes from the male’s call “Cu-Cu” repeated several times.
  • Only in Europe, these species parasites about 100 different species of birds, but each female specializes in a particular species.
  • The cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, in order to don’t have to create them.
  • The Beijing Cuckoo Project is following the migrations of 5 individuals by satellite tags. On the project page you can follow them on the map, from China to Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the following map you can see one of the tracked individuals, Flappy, which is already in Mozambique! The routes of the individuals are being updated  to understand which countries this species can migrate to, and which type of route they do.













  • Schulze-Hagen, K., Stokke, B. G., & Birkhead, T. R. (2009). Reproductive biology of the European cuckoo Cuculus canorus: early insights, persistent errors and the acquisition of knowledge. Journal of ornithology150 (1), 1-16.
  • Davies, N. B., Kilner, R. M., & Noble, D. G. (1998). Nestling cuckoos, Cuculus canorus, exploit hosts with begging calls that mimic a brood. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences265(1397), 673-678.
  • IUCN
  • Naturlink
  • The Beijing Cucko Project