©Amy Lewis

Cuckoo in flight

©David Tipling/2020VISION

Cuckoo chick and reed warbler

©David Tipling/2020VISION


Scientific name: Cuculus canorus
Traditionally heralding the start of spring, the song of the cuckoo sounds the same as its name: 'cuck-oo'. It can be heard, and sometimes seen, in its favoured grassland, woodland edge and reedbed habitats.

Species information


Length: 32-34cm
Wingspan: 58cm
Weight: 110-130g
Average lifespan: 4 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Listed as Vulnerable on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

When to see

March to August


About the size of a collared dove, the cuckoo is a scarce summer visitor to most of the UK, arriving in late March and April. Almost as soon as they have laid their eggs, the adults leave for Africa, with young birds following them in late summer. The cuckoo is a 'brood parasite' - it is famous for laying its eggs in other birds' nests and fooling them into raising its young. Dunnocks, meadow pipits and reed warblers are common victims of this 'cuckolding' behaviour. Chicks and adults eat invertebrates; their preferred food is hairy caterpillars that other birds often won't eat.

How to identify

Cuckoos are sometimes mistaken for Sparrowhawks due to their markings: blue-grey backs and heads, with striped, dark grey and white undersides. They have long tails and pointed wings and a hawk-like shape in flight.


A widespread summer visitor.

Did you know?

Young cuckoos often grow much bigger than their host parents, so they require a lot more food and attention than the host's rightful chicks. To this end, they will push their host's eggs or chicks out of the nest.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. By working together, we can create Living Landscapes: networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.