CUCKOO

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CUCKOO {cueulus, Lin.); a genus of birds, characterized by a bill of moderate size, short tarsi, and {ail composed of 10 feathers. The bill is compressed, and slightly arched. The greater number of species belonging to this genus are' found . on the ancient continent. Only one species is a native of Great Britain, and very few belong to Europe. In America, no true cuckoos are found, for the genus cotcyzus differs very essentially fjom them iiu its habits. The cuckoos are especially distinguished by their habit ofMayinglheir eggs in the nests of other, and, generally, much smaller birds. What is still more singular, it has been found, by very careful observations, that the young cuckoo, shortly after being hatched, throws out of the nest all the other young or eggs, and thus engrosses to itself the whole parental care of the bird in whose nest it has been lodged. The manner in which this ejectment is effected is thus described by Jenner, in the second part of the Philosophical Transactions for 1788, article 14: " The little animal, with the assistance of its rump and wings, contrived to get the bird on its back, and, making a lodgment for the burden by elevating its elbows, clambered backwards with it up the side of the nest, till it reached the top, where, resting for a moment, it threw off its load with a jerk, and quite disengaged it from the nest. It remained in this situation a short time, feeling about with the extremity of its wings, as if to be convinced whether the business was properly executed, and then dropped into the nest again. With these (the extremities of its wings) I have often seen it examine, as it were, an egg or nestling before it began its operations ; and the nice sensibility which these parts appeared to possess seemed sufficient to compensate the want of sight, which, as yet, it was destitute of. I afterwards put in an egg, and this, by a similar process, was conveyed to the edge of the nest, and thrown out. These experiments I have since repeated several times in different nests, and have always found the young cuckoo disposed to act in the same manner. In climbing up the nest^ it sometimes drops its burden, and thus is foiled in its endeavors; but, after a little respite, the work is resumed, and goes on almost incessantly till it is effected. It is wonderful to see the extraordinary exertion of the young cuckoo, when it is only two or three days old, if a bird be put in the nest with it, that is too weighty for it to lift out. In this state, it seems ever restless and uneasy. But this disposition for turning out its companions begins tt> decline from the time it is two or tare* till it is twelve days old; when, as far as I have seen, it ceases. Indeed, the disposi tion for throwing out the egg appears to cease a few days sooner; for I have frequently seen the young cuckoo, after it has been hatched 9 or 10 days, renaove a nestling that had been placed in the nest with it, when it suffered an egg, put there at the same time, to remain unmolested. The singularity of its shape is well adapted to these purposes; for, different from other newlyhatched birds, its back, from the scapulae downwards, is very broad, with a considerable depression in the middle. This depression seems formed by nature for the purpose of giving a more secure lodgment to the egg of the hedgesparrow or its young one, when the young cuckoo is employed in removing either of them from the nest. When it is about 12 days old, this cavity is quite filled up, and then the back assumes the shape of nestling birds in general. A young cuckoo, that had been hatched by a hedgesparrow about four hours, was confined in the nest in such a manner, that it could not possibly turn out the young hedgesparrows, which were hatched at the same time, though it was almost incessantly making attempts to effect it. The consequence was, the old birds fed the whole alike, and appeared, in eveiy respect, to pay the same attention to the young cuckoo as to their own young, until the 13th day, when the nest was unfortunately plundered. The smallness of the cuckoo's egg, in proportion to the size of the bird, is a circumstance that hitherto, I believe, has escaped the notice of the ornithologist. So great is the disproportion, that it is, in general, smaller than that of the housesparrow ; whereas, the difference in the size of the birds is nearly as five to one. I have used the term in general, because eggs produced at different times by the game bird, vary very much in size. I have found a cuckoo's egg so light, that it weighed only 43 grains, and one so heavy, that it weighed 55 grains. The color of the cuckoo's eggs is extremely variable. Some, both in ground and penciling, very much resemble the housesparrow's; some are indistinctly covered with brancolored spots; and others are marked with lines of black, resembling, in some measure, the eggs of the yellowhammer." The cause of this singular habit of the common euckoo of Europe (cucvlus canorus) has been long a subject of discussion, without having been very satisfactorily determined. The opinion of the observer above cited appears to be as near the truth as we may Jiope to arrive. He attributes it to the tihort stay made by the bird in the coun try where it is under the necessity of propagating its species. Were it not to resort to some such expedient, it would be impossible that the species could be continued. The cuckoo first appears in England about the 17th of April. Its egg is not ready for incubation sooner than the middle of May. A fortnight is taken up by the sitting bird in hatching the egg. The bird generally continues three weeks in the nest before it flies. The foster parents feed it for more than five weeks after this period; so that, if the cuckoo took care of its own eggs and young, the newlyhatched bird would not be fit to provide for itself before its parent would be instinctively directed to seek a new residence, and be thus compelled to abandon its young one; for the old cuckoos take their final leave before the first week*in July. The young cuckoos forsake the nest as soon as fully fledged, and capable of providing for themselves. Their migrations from Europe are thought to be chiefly directed towards Africa ; thence they regularly return with the spring, and, from some dead tree or bare bough, the male pours forth his monotonous song, cuckoo ! cuckoo !In America, there is a bird of a very different genus, which resembles the cuckoo in depositing its egg in the nests of other birds, to be fostered by them. Comprehended under the term Emberiza.