Physical characteristics: Both males and females have dark gray feathers on the top of their bodies. On the lower body are gray and white feathers. Females of some species have brownish red feathers on their upper breasts. The cuckoo's long tail is black.
Cuckoos have black bills and weigh about 3.7 ounces (115 grams). Their head-to-tail length is 12.6 to 13 inches (32 to 33 centimeters).
Geographic range: Common cuckoos are found throughout Europe and Asia. They also live in Siberia and parts of Africa.
Habitat: Common cuckoos live in various habitats. They're found in wooded areas, including rainforests where heavy rain produces many trees. They also live in meadows and grassland areas like steppes, where there are few trees.
Diet: Common cuckoos are insectivores, primarily eating insects. Their diet includes hairy caterpillars, dragonflies, beetles, and crickets.
Behavior and reproduction: Common cuckoos are solitary and polygamous (puh-LIH-guh-mus). Both males and females breed with many different partners. There is no nest where the female lays eggs. Instead she relies on birds of other species to incubate the eggs and feed the young birds. After mating, the cuckoo looks to see which birds are building nests. The cuckoo may destroy one or more eggs in the "host" bird's nest. The cuckoo does this to make room for her egg. The host is usually fooled because the cuckoo chooses a bird that lays an egg similar to her own. While each cuckoo lays only one type of egg, cuckoos lay eggs of so many sizes and colors that their eggs resemble those of over 125 different host species.
Common cuckoos and people: The common cuckoo has long fascinated people because the female's behavior is so different from that of a traditional mother who cares for her young. A form of the bird's name is used to describe the victim of a dishonest act. Initially, a "cuckold" was man whose wife cheated on him—a "cuckold" is now someone who was deceived. In addition, "cuckoo" is a term used to describe someone who acts strangely.
Not all references to cuckoos, however, are negative. The birds' call is imitated in the chimes of the cuckoo clock. And in England, people say that when they hear a cuckoo in nature that the season of spring will soon arrive.
Conservation status: Common cuckoos do not face extinction; their species is not in danger of dying out. ■
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