How to identifyThe Cuckoo is a dove-sized bird with a blue-grey back, head and chest, and stripey black and white belly. Its sleek body, long tail and pointed wings gives it an appearance not unlike Kestrels or Sparrowhawks.
Cuckoos are summer visitors and known for being brood parasites. This means that, instead of building their own nest, the females lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, especially Meadow Pipits, Dunnocks and Reed Warblers. When a female Cuckoo finds a suitable nest, and the hosts aren’t looking, she removes one of their eggs and lays her own egg in its place. Cuckoo young hatch after just 12 days, and push the hosts’ eggs or babies out of the nest, allowing it to eat all food brought by the host bird. By the time the Cuckoo leaves the nest, it is far bigger than the host bird, but the adoptive parent continues to feed the young Cuckoo for a further two weeks.
With their young being raised by another bird, adult Cuckoos are free to leave the UK much earlier. Most leave during June for Africa, where they spend winter. The young Cuckoos leave later on, once they’re fully fledged.
Their recent population decline makes this a Red List species in the 2021 UK Conservation Status Report. Red is the highest conservation priority, with species on this list needing urgent action. Species on this list, such as Cuckoos, are globally threatened, with big declines in breeding populations and ranges.
* This map is intended as a guide. It shows general distribution rather than detailed, localised populations.