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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Cuckoo

Hebrides Bird Sightings : Cuckoo


(Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Cuckoo, European Cuckoo, Gokk, Gowk, Gok, Cucu, Cuccu, Gaukr, Geac)

Cuculus canorus

Gaelic: Cuthag


Photograph © Suzanne Harris
Leverburgh - Isle of Harris - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
1st June, 2007

Our Cuckoo photographs :



  • Common Cuckoo
  • Cuculus canorus
  • Gaelic: Cuthag
  • UK: AMBER LIST, 14,000 pairs (Summer) BTO
  • UK: Migrant Breeder, Passage Visitor (Arrives late March - April, departs July - August)
  • WI: Scarce passage visitor (Very small numbers each year)
  • Breeds: Europe, Asia, North Africa
  • Winters: South of breeding range to South Africa, South Asia
  • Habitat: Reedbeds. Trees: open woodland, taiga (moist subarctic coniferous forest begins where tundra ends), steppe forest
  • Diet: Larger Insects & large hairy caterpillars & beetles (usually ones that other species avoid)
  • Dove-sized blue-grey bird with slender body, long tail, strong legs. Pointed wings.
    Adult females two morphs: sometimes grey like the male but with rusty-buff tinge & dark barring on breast, other morph rusty-brown above & breast with dark barring all over (the “hepatic” phase). Young are brown.
  • Max recorded age 17yrs 9ths
  • Listen to a Cuckoo (RSPB site). It is the call of the male that gives the bird it's name. Female's call is a loud bubbling sound
  • Similar birds: Sparrowhawk, Collared Dove


There are different Common Cuckoo populations (gens). The female of each Cuckoo population lays eggs that match in colour and markings those of her host species, eg Pipit-cuckoo (mottled brown eggs), Robin-cuckoo, (red-speckled eggs). Male Cuckoos will breed with the female from any of the Cuckoo populations. Other host species include Wheatears, Dunnocks, Reed Warblers, Twites, Reed Buntings (over 100 different species have been recorded as host species to Cuckoos).

A female Cuckoo has up to 50 nests in her territory, she watches them and times her egg-laying so that she lays her egg almost at the same time as the host species. She usually throws out one of the host's eggs before laying hers. Sometimes the host species has a domed nest with a small entrance hole, the female Cuckoo has evolved an extrusible cloaca, she can "squirt" her egg into this nest. She can lay an egg every two days.

The Cuckoo egg hatches earlier than the host's and the Cuckoo chick is very fast growing, it will usually throw out the eggs or young of the host by instinct.

The female Cuckoo will return to the same breeding territory for up to 10 years. 75% of the nestlings return in later years to establish their own breeding territories within 40km of their birth site.

You will often see a Cuckoo being followed by a Meadow Pipit (sometimes several pipits). In the Gaelic the Pipit is called the Cuckoo's Lady-in-waiting, in reality it is a wee irate pipit seeing off the cuckoo ...


Cuckoo records in the Western Isles

Scarce passage visitor (Very small numbers each year)
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Cuckoo is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)



Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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