Cuckoo

Cuculidae

Last updated: November 22, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff


Cuckoo Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Cuculiformes
Family
Cuculidae
Genus
Cuculus
Scientific Name
Cuculidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Cuckoo Conservation Status


Cuckoo Facts

Prey
insects
Estimated Population Size
between 25 and 100 million birds
Biggest Threat
Shifting habitat
Most Distinctive Feature
Feet, which are zygodactyl (two inner toes face forward, two outer twos face backward)
Wingspan
Up to 42 inches for the largest species, the channel-billed cuckoo
Incubation Period
11 to 13 days
Habitat
Forests, meadows, woodlands, and scrub areas.
Predators
Raptors (adult birds), Snakes and raccoons (nestlings)
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
12 and 22 eggs each breeding season, spread among different nests.
Type
bird
Common Name
cuckoo
Number Of Species
127
Location
Every continent except Antarctica
Nesting Location
Trees, bushes, the ground. Some species lay their eggs in other bird's nests.

Cuckoo Physical Characteristics

Top Speed
19 mph
Lifespan
six years
Weight
.5 ounces to 1.4 ounces

Cuckoo Images

Click through all of our Cuckoo images in the gallery.

cuckoo perched on wood branch
cuckoo in flight
One of the most distinctive features of cuckoo birds is their zygodactyl feet.
isolated cuckoo

View all of the Cuckoo images!



“The Channel-billed Cuckoo is the world’s largest cuckoo.”

The cuckoo family of birds is interesting for many reasons. While some of the facts about the bird are overblown, such as their reputation as parasitic birds, there is some truth to the lore. Some species of the family do lay their eggs in host nests, leaving the host to raise their young.

The family contains 127 species of birds, however, and many raise their young on their own. Some species lay their eggs in communal nests, sharing the responsibility. The parenting behavior of the cuckoo family is one of the most diverse and interesting facts about them.

Males make a distinctive call, which is the meaning behind the cuckoo name. When you hear the call, you will immediately realize why the bird is called the cuckoo.

3 Incredible Cuckoo Facts!

  • Some species of lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Once the young hatch, they push the host bird’s eggs out of the nest to eliminate competition for food.
  • The roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo family. The greater roadrunner can reach speeds of 26 miles per hour on foot.
  • The smallest cuckoo species, the little bronze cuckoo, weighs about 17 grams.

Where to Find Cuckoos

These birds can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They live in forests, grasslands, and other environments.

Scientific Name

The scientific name for the Cuckoo is Cuculidae.

Appearance

With 127 species making up this family, it is difficult to accurately describe the bird. Some key identification points of the family are the feet and the tail feathers. All members of this family have zygodactyl feet, meaning its two inner toes point forward while its two outer twos point toward the rear of its body. Most species in this family have long tail feathers. The tail is used to guide the bird, both on land and in the air.

One of the most distinctive features of cuckoo birds is theirzygodactyl feet.

Behavior

One behavior that makes identification of the cuckoo easier is their solitary nature. These birds rarely gather with others, either in pairs or groups. The birds in this family are most often active during the day and shy away from humans. The eager birder will have more luck listening to the sound of its song than seeing it.

Diet

Insects, caterpillars, and fruit make up the bird’s diet.

Predators and Threats

Fledglings are vulnerable to raids on their nest by snakes and raccoons, while adult birds may fall prey to predatory birds, such as hawks.

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The various species of cuckoo birds have different mating and breeding behaviors. Some are monogamous, generally, the same species that are migratory. Some species lay their eggs in communal nests. The act that cuckoo birds are known for, which is laying their eggs in nests belonging to other birds, is not typical of the entire species. Some species are known for finding host birds, where they lay their eggs. The host bird then raises the cuckoo as its own.

Population

There are an estimated between 25 and 100 million birds.

View all 110 animals that start with C

Cuckoo FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is a cuckoo bird?

The cuckoo is a medium size bird, with species on every continent except Antarctica.

Do cuckoos migrate?

The majority of cuckoo bird species do not migrate. Some species, particularly those who live at higher latitudes, migrate for the winter. Of the migrating species, some make their migratory flights during the day, while others do the bulk of their flying at night.

Some migratory species of cuckoo birds have particularly long and grueling trips. Both the yellow and black-billed cuckoo migrate from North America, making a non-stop flight over the Caribbean Sea. The common cuckoo flies from Europe to central Africa, passing over the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, and the long-tailed koel travels from New Zealand to Polynesia.

How fast does the cuckoo fly?

They can reach speeds of nearly 19 miles per hour when hunting.

What is the cuckoo's wingspan?

The shining bronze cuckoo is the smallest of the species, with a wingspan of 12.5 inches, while the largest, the Channel-billed cuckoo, has a wingspan of 42 inches.

When do cuckoos leave the nest?

They leave the nest around three weeks after hatching.

Where do cuckoo birds live?

In all parts of the world besides Antarctica, and in diverse habitats from woodlands to grassy plains.

What does a cuckoo bird look like?

The two most common identification markers of the species are its feet, with two toes pointing forward, and two toes pointing toward the back, and its long tail, used for steering. Otherwise, this diverse family of birds can range in color and size extensively.

What does a cuckoo bird sound like?

The song of the cuckoo is how it was named. The sound of the male’s song sounds like a repeating coo-coo.

Why are cuckoos bad?

Some species of cuckoos lay their eggs in host bird’s nests. When the young hatch, they push the remaining contents of the nest out, allowing the host to devote her energies to the young cuckoo. This can have a negative impact on the population numbers of other birds.

What are cuckoo birds known for?

The meaning of the cuckoo bird’s name is the sound that it makes, which it is famous for. Another interesting fact about the family is that some species raid other nests to lay eggs and take on the responsibility of their young.

Do cuckoos lay their eggs in other bird's nests?

Some species do, but not all.

Where do cuckoos go in the winter?

While some species migrate, either to southern areas or to lower elevations, others remain in the same territory all year.

Sources
  1. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/cuckoo
  2. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/common-cuckoo

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