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A Bird in the Clock…

Common Cuckoo, Kabini

If you’re a Dunnock, Pipit or a Eurasian Reed Warbler, you could be excused for walking around with a slightly confused expression. We empathise with the Warbler mom who lovingly tends to her eggs, and watches proudly as they hatch only to have one of the hatchlings respond to her maternal entreaties with a ‘cuckoo’ instead of warbling back. She may not realize it but she’s just one in a long line of birds that’s been ‘Cuckooed’! That’s because the Common Cuckoo of Kabini is a brood parasite, which essentially means that she prefers to lay her eggs in the nests of other birds. Not for her, the sweat and toil of building a cozy home for her newborns; why bother when there are other homes to gatecrash? In fact, hen Cuckoos have been known to visit over fifty such involuntary hosts during a breeding season, leaving behind a gift of one of her offspring, after pushing one of the original occupants out of the nest. As an aside, we’d advise those of you in the charity fundraising business to never visit a Cuckoo home for contributions to a Child Fund…chances are they’ll donate some children to the fund! Not content with the unsavoury tag of a ‘brood parasite’, this bird also gave birth to the label of ‘cuckold’ that was appended to husbands in medieval England, whose wives, allegedly like hen Cuckoos, changed paramours regularly. On a happier note, the call of a Common Cuckoo has been seen, over the ages, as the harbinger of spring across Europe. In fact, their association with the heralding of time, created an entire industry with Cuckoo Clocks in the 17th century, using the bird’s call as an accepted way of announcing the hours. Of course, how popular these clocks were with married middle-aged men in the England of those days is debatable!

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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