Cuckoo Comeuppance

People often rail against cuckoos and use all sorts of pejorative descriptions about them and their ways. Hey! Cuckoos gotta do what cuckoos gotta do. Nature. Survival of the fittest. Evolution. Life. Bird life.

Consider three things: 1. Cuckoos have no alternative. This is the ONLY way they can breed; 2. Cuckoos eat a whole bunch of caterpillars, even the ones with poisonous hairs and barbs. We need cuckoos. 3. Anthropomorphising animals is never a good idea. Cuckoos aren’t little feathered humans deciding ‘What the hell, I’ll drop the kids off at a neighbour’s house and abandon them there.’

So I’m always disappointed when people use descriptions like ‘nasty cheat’, ‘treacherous’, ‘deceitful’, etc when describing cuckoos. Many birds like hawks and eagles who do bring up their own young catch and kill other birds – including baby birds taken from their nests – to feed to their young. It’s all just nature, people!

In fact the ‘arms race’ between cuckoos trying to lay their eggs in their hosts’ nests and the hosts trying to thwart the cuckoos makes for fascinating natural history. And every now and then one might even get to see it happening! I did once and this story of an African Cuckoo coming to a sticky end after trying to enter an Indian Mynah nest reminded me of it.

My encounter was on the last day of a Dusi Canoe Marathon back in the nineteen eighties. I was drifting along on the Umgeni River just upstream of the big N2 bridge across the river, wishing the current would do a bit more to get me to the finish at Blue Lagoon, when I heard a ruckus and saw a bunch of weavers chasing and mobbing a bird. As I got closer I saw it was a Diederik Cuckoo pulling its best aerial dogfighting maneuvres to try and escape the mob. Even flying upside down much of the time so its claws could fend off the pecking. To no avail. They beat her down into the reedbed and then down the reeds onto the water. Then I was past the scene of this neighbourhood vigilante action. So I didn’t see the end and don’t know if the Diederik was actually killed, as the Mynahs in North West Province killed the African Cuckoo. Fascinating!

Diederik being Donnered

Thanks, Africa Geographic (go and see more pics)

Thanks to rockjumperbirding.com for the Diederik and hbw.com for the African cuckoo photos.

Other birds also parasitise nests. And here’s a fascinating talk if you’re really keen. It’s The Royal Society’s premier annual talk. About an hour on youtube.

pejorative – yeah, I also thought it was perjorative

Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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