Cuculus canoruscommon cuckoo(Also: Eurasian cuckoo)

Geographic Range

The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) spends its breeding season throughout much of Europe and as far north as Sweden and Russia. The cuckoo has also been found breeding in areas as far south as China and India, as far east as Spain and as west as Japan. It is absent in much of western China and Mongolia. When the breeding season ends, the cuckoo migrates to central and southern Africa, Vietnam, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. (BirdLife International, 2012)


Common cuckoos live in open areas such as fields and marshes. They can also live in alpine areas, forests, or on farmland. The cuckoos’ habitat choice depends on the availability of food. Their habitats include elevations up to 3800 m. (Fuisz and Kort, 2007; Vivaldi, et al., 2013)

  • Range elevation
    3800 (high) m
    12467.19 (high) ft

Physical Description

Common cuckoos have a long body from bill to tail that ranges from 32- 34 cm. They also have long tails 13-15 cm and strong legs. The body weight ranges between 2.0-2.5 g. The cuckoos have long pointed wings with a wing span up to 55 cm long. Males and females are approximately the same size. Males have a gray body and a white belly with dark lines. Females are two different colors, they can either look like males with a tan colored breasts with dark lines, or they can have reddish brown colored bodies. Juveniles are brown with the white patches on their backs. The basal metabolic rate is 0.8380 W cm^3 oxygen/hour (average). (BirdLife International, 2012; Butchart, et al., 2003; Tanka, et al., 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    110 g to 130 g g
    to oz
  • Range length
    32 cm to 34 cm mm
    to in
  • Range wingspan
    55 cm to 60 cm mm
    to in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.8380 W cm3.O2/g/hr
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.838 W


Common cuckoos do not form mating pairs, and both sexes mate with multiple partners during the mating season (April-September). Common cuckoos only sing during the breeding season. Male cuckoos call continuously and open their wings, fan their tails and bob their heads. The females make bubbling sounds. Common cuckoos only have one breeding season per year. (BirdLife International, 2012; Daniela and Spancer, 2009; Nakamura, et al., 2005)

As brood parasites, common cuckoos do not build their own nests. Females selectively pick the nest of a host species to lay their eggs each year. During the breeding season, the females visit up to fifty nests and only lay between twelve to twenty-two eggs each. Their eggs can vary in color depending upon the color of the host eggs. Females lay their eggs every other day. The average egg measures 22x16 mm and weighs around 3.2 grams. The cuckoos remove an egg from the host nest and lay their own egg. Common cuckoos rely on the host parents to incubate their eggs and feed the chicks. The eggs hatch between eleven to thirteen days. After hatching, the young cuckoo chicks remove the host species’ eggs and nestlings from the nest. The young cuckoo chicks receive all the care and food from the host parents and grow much larger than the host parents. Common cuckoo chicks leave the nest after seventeen to twenty- one days. Young cuckoos stay around the host parents for six to eight weeks. In September, the young cuckoos leave the host parents and fly to Africa. Both male and female cuckoos reach the sexual maturity at two years of age. (Davies and Brooke, 1989; Nakamura, et al., 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Common cuckoos have one breeding season. During the breeding season they mate with multiple partners.
  • Breeding season
    From April to september.
  • Range eggs per season
    12 to 22
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 13 days
  • Range fledging age
    17 to 21 days
  • Range time to independence
    6 to 8 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Common cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of the host species. The males and females do not incubate the eggs and they do not feed or raise their young. spend no time on incubation, feeding the chicks, or raising their young. Females spend time searching for the nests to lay their eggs. (Kleven, et al., 2004; Vaclav, et al., 2014)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


Common cuckoos live a maximum of 12.9 years in the wild. Common cuckoos have not been studied in captivity. (Fransson, et al., 2014)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    12.9 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12.9 years


Common cuckoos are in generally, not social. Both males and females are isolated during the non-breeding season. They spend their time forging and looking for new areas to forge. They do not sing or communicate with each other during the non-breeding season. As they migrate from Africa to Europe for breeding, they become social with the members of their own species. Common cuckoos are nocturnal and solitary migrants. Because the adult cuckoos migrate back to Africa long before the young cuckoos chicks hatch, the young cuckoos find their routes to Africa without any help or guidance. Stopover areas include forests, farmlands and wetlands. During the breeding season, both males and females have territories. Males constantly defend their territories, but females do not defend their areas. Both males and females have separate forging areas and, they don’t frorage in the breeding area. These cuckoos are brood parasites, with females laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species. (BirdLife International, 2012; Davies and Brooke, 1989; Nakamura, et al., 2005)

Home Range

Common cuckoos are migratory species that occupy a vast landscape for their breeding and feeding area. They have two different home ranges. The home range for egg laying has average of 27.3 hectares and the home range for non-egg laying has an average of 36.7 hectares. (Vogl, et al., 2004)

Communication and Perception

Common cuckoos are brood parasites. Instead of making their own nests, females lay their eggs into the nests of other bird species. While in host nests, common cuckoo chicks learn the calls specific to their host parents. This is an adaptation of cuckoos so that the parents can bring them food more frequently. These young chicks only respond to the alarm calls of host parents. Males and females only sing during the breeding season. Adult male cuckoos have slightly different calls depending on their habitat. Cuckoos in forests make softer calls, whereas cuckoos on the mainland have louder calls. The females make bubbling sounds. (Fuisz and Kort, 2007; MacKay, 2001)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • mimicry

Food Habits

Common cuckoos eat different types of insects, including hairy caterpillars which are not eaten by many other birds for despite their bitter taste. Their diet also includes crickets, beetles, larva, and dragonflies. Female cuckoos also eat the eggs and the nestlings of the host species. (BirdLife International, 2012; Vaclav, et al., 2014)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • eggs
  • insects


Adult cuckoos do not have any known predators, but chicks are attacked by crows and cats some time. Adults resemble dangerous prey birds such as sparrow hawk (Accipiter nisus) and other raptor species, depending on the geographical areas. These colors and markings allow common cuckoos to escape their predators. If a young cuckoo chicks feel threatened, they release brown fluid from their cloaca. This fluid has odor and serve as repellent for the predators. (Gluckman and Mundy, 2013)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • mimic

Ecosystem Roles

Common cuckoos play an important role in the environment. They are brood parasite and they lay their eggs in the nests of multiple other bird species. Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis), Eurasian reed warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), dunnocks (Prunella modularis) are the most common host species. They negatively affect the population of the host species by ejecting their eggs and the nestling of the host from their nest. They are also known to eat the eggs and nestling of the host species. Common cuckoos feed on many insects, but majority of their diet consists of the hairy caterpillars (Creatonotus gangis). These insects destroy crops and fruits so by feeding on these insects, cuckoos help keep their population in check. Parasites that infect common cuckoos include feather lice (Columbicola). Common cuckoos don’t get these lice from the foster parents. It is thought that they get the lice from direct contact with other adults after leaving the nests. One mite species found in the nasal cavity of common cuckoos. This mite belongs to the genus (Sternostoma) and family Rhinonyssidae. (Daniela and Spancer, 2009; Dimiv and Knee, 2012)

Species Used as Host
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Common cuckoos feed on many types of insects, but the majority of their diet includes hairy caterpillars of garden tiger moths (Arctia caja). These insects destroy many crops including raspberry (Rubus idaeus), viburnum (Vibumum opulus) and honeysuckle (Lonicera albiflora). Common cuckoos keep the population of these insects in check. (Daniela and Spancer, 2009; Dimiv and Knee, 2012)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Common cuckoos do not have any negative economic effects on humans.

Conservation Status

Common cuckoos are listed as “Least Concern” species on IUCN Red List. They are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under that act it is illegal to possess, trade, or barter the birds, the bird parts or the eggs. Common cuckoos don’t have a special status on the US federal list or on CITES. Although BirdLife International (2012) reports that their population is declining in some areas, the decline is not severe enough to threaten the stability of the species. (BirdLife International, 2012)


Mohammad Iqbal (author), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Zeb Pike (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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


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).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism


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


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


BirdLife International, 2012. "Cuculus canorus" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22683873A39078674. Accessed February 03, 2016 at

Brooke, M., N. Davis. 1987. Recent changes in host usage by cuckoos Cuculus canorus in Britain. Journal of Animal Ecology, 56/3: 873-883.

Butchart, S., R. Kilner, T. Fuisz, N. Davies. 2003. Differences in the nestling begging calls of hosts and host-races of the common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus. Animal Behaviour, 65/1: 345–354.

Daniela, C., S. Spancer. 2009. Avian brood parasitism in a Mediterranean region: Hosts and habitat preferences of Common Cuckoos Cuculus canorus. Bird Study, 56/1: 389–400.

Davies, N., M. Brooke. 1989. An experimental study of co-evolution between the cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, and its host. Journal of Animal Ecology, 58/1: 207-224.

Davies, N., R. Kilner, D. Noble. 1998. Nestling cuckoos, Cuculus canorus, exploit hosts with begging calls that mimic a brood. Biological Sciences, 265/1397: 1-6.

Dimiv, I., W. Knee. 2012. One new species of the genus Sternostoma (Mesostigmata: Rhinonyssidae) from Cuculus canorus (Cuculiformes: Cuculidae) from Leningrad Province, Russia. The Acarological Society of Japan, 21/2: 137-142.

Fransson, T., T. Kolehmainen, L. Jansson, T. Wenninger. 2014. "The Animal Aging and Longevity and Aging Database" (On-line). Accessed March 25, 2016 at

Fuisz, T., S. Kort. 2007. Habitat-dependent call divergence in common cuckoo: Is it a potential signal for assortative mating. Biological sciences, 274/1622: 2093-2097.

Gluckman, T., N. Mundy. 2013. Cuckoos in raptors' clothing: Barred plumage illuminates a fundamental principle of Batesian mimiccry. Animal Behavior, 86/6: 1165-1181.

Hagen, K., B. Stokke, T. Birkhead. 2009. Reproductive biology of the European cuckoo Cuculus canorus: Early insights, persistent errors and the acquisition of knowledge. Journal of Ornithology, 150/1: 1-16.

Hargitai, R., C. Moska´t, M. Ba´n, D. Gil, I. Lo´pez-Rull, E. Solymos. 2010. Eggshell characteristics and yolk composition in the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus: Are they adapted to brood parasitism?. Journal of Avian Biology, 41/1: 1-8.

Huin, N., T. Sparks. 2000. Spring arrival patterns of the cuckoo Cuculus canorus, nightingale uscinia megarhynchos and spotted flycatcher musciapa striata in Britain. Bird study, 47/1: 1-9.

Kleven, ., . Moksnes, E. Røskaft, G. Rudolfsen, B. Stokke, M. Honza. 2004. Breeding success of common cuckoos Cuculus canorus parasitising four sympatric species of Acrocephalus warblers. Journal of Avian Biology, 35/1: 1-6.

Kleven, O., A. Moksnes, E. Roskaft. 1999. Host species affects the growth rate of cuckoo Cuculus canonus chicks. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 47/1: 1-6.

MacKay, B. 2001. Bird Sounds: How and Why Birds Sing, Call, Chatter, and Screech. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. Accessed April 10, 2016 at

Moskát, C., M. Hauber. 2007. Confict between egg recognition and egg rejection decisions in common cuckoo Cuculus canorus) hosts. Animal Cognition, 10/1: 1-9.

Nakamura, H., y. Miyazawa, K. Kashiwagi. 2005. Behavior of radio-tracked common cuckoo females during the breeding season in Japan. Ornithological Science, 4: 31-41.

Tanka, K., G. Morimot, K. Ueda. 2005. Yellow wing-patch of a nestling horsfield's hawk cuckoo Cuculus fugax induces miscognition by hosts: mimicking a gape?. Journal of Avian Biology, 36/5: 1-4.

Vaclav, J., P. Peter, P. Milica. 2014. Common Cuckoos Cuculus canorus change their nest-searching strategy according to the number of available host nests. Ibis, 156/1: 1-9.

Vivaldi, M., J. Soler, A. Moller, T. Contreras, M. Soler. 2013. The importance of nest-site and habitat in egg recognition ability of potential hosts of the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Ibis, 155/1: 1-12.

Vogl, W., B. Taborsky, M. Taborsky, Y. Teuschl, M. Honza. 2004. Habitat and space use of Eurpean cuckoo females during the egg laying period. Behaviour, 141/7: 881-889.

Willemoes, M., R. Strandberg, R. Klaassen, A. Tøttrup, Y. Vardanis, P. Howey, K. Thorup, M. Wikelsk, T. Alerstam. 2014. Narrow-front loop migration in a population of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus, as revealed by satellite telemetry. PLoS ONE, 9/1: e83515.