On my dog walks around Clue Hill Farm last week I heard the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) three days running. A true sign for me that spring is really here. I think that this must be a real privilege, as the call of the cuckoo is becoming a
very rare sound in the U.K., because fewer and fewer of them return to breed here every year. It seems that very little is known about their habitat and where they go, so it is therefore very difficult to concentrate on their conservation. We just hope that the conservation work that we are doing will prove beneficial to providing the correct habitats for birds such as the cuckoo.
I may have heard one, but I certainly did not see one and I wonder how many people would recognise one if they did see them? The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird and has blue/grey upper parts, head and chest, with dark barred white under parts. They have a sleek body, long tail and pointed wings, which is not unlike kestrels or sparrowhawks.
The females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers. The unfortunate host birds then take on the duties of parents and feed the cuckoo chick, unaware that the baby bird is not their own. A female cuckoo may visit as many as 50 nest in one year – which if they are such prolific breeders, begs the question as to why they are in such decline; but due to their recent decline, they have now been listed as a Red List species by the RSPB.
When I met with Stuart Mabbutt last Saturday, who is now our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist* at Clue Hill Farm, within the space of 25 minutes of walking around the woods and surrounding hedgerows, he heard: robins, willow warbler, wren, great tit, blue tit, pheasant, blackcap, green woodpecker, dunnock and saw two buzzards searching for prey. We did not hear the cuckoo though.
Stuart was preparing a site study for his Wildlife Safari on May 16th and was really pleased to see how the woods and pond were springing into life. He had last visited us in late autumn and our careful and sustainable management of the area is proof of how we try to nurture the environment to encourage wildlife.
Meanwhile, I shall be looking to spot my first cuckoo. They are masters of disguise. Some of them are even able to match their eggs to those in their chosen nest, making it less likely for the real owners to notice the new addition. How clever is that?
* Our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist will be using Clue Hill Farm to build his sound archive so that he can produce soundscapes. This is an exciting new collaboration for us, so watch this space!