There is a large variety. While most are dove-sized, but they can range in size from 6.5 to 36 inches; and while the most common are blue gray and brown, some are iridescent blue and emerald green. All have long tails, usually with the individual feathers tipped with white.
The most common is the Cuculus canorus, known simply as the “cuckoo,” the “European cuckoo,” and the “common cuckoo.” The male’s wings, back, and tail are dark gray or bluish gray; its neck, breast, and head are light gray; its eyes are red, and its feet are orange. Its belly is white with dark stripes or bars. The female comes in two varieties. One looks like the male, except its belly is buff colored rather than white. The other is reddish brown and often covered with dark bars.
The bird’s name derives from the “cuck-oo” sound it makes. Some can drive their human neighbors near crazy with their endless cuckooing.
Cuckoos love hairy caterpillars, but before eating them they shake the toxins out of the creature.
The most famous or infamous characteristic of the cuckoo is called brood parasitism, which means they lay their eggs in the nests of other types of birds.
This amazing process involves many things.
There is perfect timing. “A female will establish a territory encompassing a number of potential foster nests, and carefully observe activity, waiting until the nests are at the right stage. She then swiftly takes her chance, swooping down, ejecting an egg and laying one of her own” (“Cuckoo,” Arkive.org). It only takes the female cuckoo 10 seconds to eat the host egg and to lay her own in its place! Obviously she can lay her eggs at will.
There is egg mimicry. The female cuckoo produces eggs that mimic those of the selected host. Thus various cuckoos are capable of producing a variety of eggs of differing appearance. The cuckoo prefers the nests of meadow pipits, dunnocks, and warblers, though 50 foster species are known. The female cuckoo will lay about a dozen eggs in different nests each season.
There is mimicry of the hawk. “Some species of Cuculus resemble certain bird-eating hawks (Accipiter) in appearance and mannerisms, apparently frightening the potential host and allowing the cuckoo to approach the nest unmolested” (“Cuckoo,” Encyclopedia Britannica).
There is the removal of host eggs and nestlings by the baby cuckoo. The cuckoo hatches a half-day before the other eggs, and immediately after hatching, while it is still blind and featherless, the rogue baby cuckoo rids itself of competition by pushing the host’s eggs and baby birds from the nest.
There is mimicry of the host nestlings chirp by the baby cuckoo. The cuckoo nestling eats four times as much as baby warblers, and it tricks the hosts into feeding it as much as they would normally feed multiple of their own chicks. Dr. Nicholas Davies of the University of Cambridge, Britain’s foremost expert on the cuckoo, says, “The cuckoo chick has this amazing begging call. It sounds like a whole brood of hungry chicks” (“The secret crimes of the cuckoo,” Countryfile.com, May 26, 2009). “As the chick gets older the intensity of its begging cry increases to make the hosts work harder.”
After the cuckoo lays all of her eggs, it flies 12,000 miles to Africa, crossing the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert in the process. After the baby cuckoo hatches and is raised by an adopted parent, it flies 12,000 miles to join the parents it has never seen at a place it has never been (“Cuckoos,” The Atlas of Bird Migration). One cuckoo that was tagged with a solar-powered satellite tracking device in 2011 flew 45,000 miles in three years, migrating from England to Angola. The birds usually spend only a few weeks in Africa before heading north again.
Lessons from the Cuckoo
For one thing, the cuckoo and all of its amazing attributes witness to the existence of an Almighty, all-wise Creator.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
Consider the bird’s living cell with its DNA and amazing biological machinery to read the DNA’s information and convert it to a living, reproducing creature.
Consider the bird’s ability to fly and all of the components required for that. Just one flight feather is composed of more than one million individual parts made up of billions of cells perfectly organized into a marvel of design.
Consider the bird’s eyesight, hearing, digestive system, survival ability.
Consider its reproduction system, which even unsaved Darwinists call “the miracle of life.”
Consider the the bird’s amazing environment. It is but one tiny part of a gigantic, integrated system that make’s life possible on earth.
For another thing, the cuckoo testifies of man’s fall.
The creation is for man’s enjoyment and also for man’s understanding. It is a divine revelation. The Bible says man should learn spiritual principles from the animal and plant life.
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).
Here, the lesson is the positive.
In the case of the cuckoo, it appears to be largely negative. The cuckoo is a liar!
We don’t know, of course, to what extent the cuckoo’s behavior has been changed by the Fall, but its actions are a loud warning to men about God’s moral law and divine retribution. The Bible warns men that all liars will be punished.
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8)
The only place of redemption and safety is in Jesus Christ, the Creator who came to earth to save men from their sins.
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