Cuculus canoruscommon cuckoo(Also: Eurasian cuckoo)

Geographic Range

Common cuckoos are found throughout the Old World, from Spain to Japan. Western populations migrate south to sub-Saharan Africa during the winter, eastern populations to the Philippine Islands and southeast Asia. (Gooders, 1982)


Cuculus canorus can live almost anywhere, ranging from heaths and forests, to farmlands, open moorlands and marshes. (Hammond and Everett 1980; Gooders 1982)

Physical Description

Cuculus canorus is approximately 33 cm in length. Adult males are generally gray above, including the throat and breast, while the underparts are white with close black bars. The tail, which is long and graduated, is black with white spots. The cuckoo has short legs and a non-hooked bill. A noticeable feature of C. canorus is that it has very pointed wings. The adult females are occasionally brown above, white below, and barred black. The juvenile cuckoos resemble the rare brown phase of the female. Juveniles are brown, barred, and have a white patch on the back of the neck. The voicing of C. canorus differs between males and females. The males have an unmistakable coocoo call, while the females have a babbling call. (Hammond and Everett 1980; Heinzel and Fitter 1972; Bruun 1970)

  • Average mass
    111.6 g
    3.93 oz
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.838 W


Cuculus canorus is a brood parasite. The female cuckoo lays her egg in the nest of another species. The cuckoo egg closely resembles the egg of the host species' egg. The eggs of cuckoos are either spotted or solid in color, depending upon the color of the host species' egg. The egg mimicry is an adaptation to parasitism. When the host species leaves the nest unattended, the female cuckoo removes one of the host's eggs from the nest, then lays her own before the host returns. The cuckoo egg is incubated for about 12 ½ days and usually hatches before the host eggs. Once the cuckoo has hatched, it will eject the other eggs or young so that it will receive all the food brought by the "foster parents." The young cuckoo is fed and brooded by the host for 20- 23 days, and grows several times larger than the hosts. (Campbell and Lack 1985; Gooders 1982)


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12.9 years


Cuckoos are mostly shy and live solitary lives, except during the breeding season. During the breeding season the cuckoos become noisier, males with the well-known coocoo song, while the females give a "bubbling" call. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Gooders, 1982)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

This cuckoo is an insectivore, eating mainly insects and their larvae. Hairy caterpillars, which are rejected by most birds, are eaten by C. canorus. The cuckoo is not poisoned after eating the caterpillar because before eating it, the cuckoo will bite one end of the caterpillar, slice the caterpillar using its beak, then shake the insect at one end until the toxic contents are released. (Campbell and Lack, 1985)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Conservation Status


Christina Hernandez (author), University of California, Irvine, Rudi Berkelhamer (editor), University of California, Irvine.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Bruun, B. 1970. Birds of Europe. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. Cuckoo. Pp. 123-126 in A Dictionary of Birds. Calton, Staffordshire: T & A D Poyser Ltd.

Gooders, J. 1982. Collins British Birds. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd.

Hammond, N., M. Everett. 1980. Birds of Britain and Europe. London: Ward Lock Limited.

Heinzel, H., R. Fitter. 1972. The Birds of Britain and Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. Philadelphia: J.B Lippincott Company.