Cuckoo – Cuculus Canorus
Everyone knows the cuckoo’s call – made only by the male. Although it’s not one often heard in Kingston, not at least
since I’ve lived here, a bird was around on 3 May this year very early in the morning. I was on the Downs but it must
have been audible in much of the village. I also heard one – almost certainly the same bird – when playing tennis at
lunchtime the next day. As everyone also knows, cuckoos make no nests of their own but instead parasitise other species.
The female seeks out the nests of species such as meadow pipit, dunnock and reed warbler, removes one of the host’s eggs
and replaces it with one of her own, which, extraordinarily, normally closely resembles the eggs of the victim. The
strategy is very successful as the birds not only escape all the burdens and risks associated with parenthood but the
female manages to produce far more eggs in a breeding season - as many as 25 – than she could possibly look after herself.
My grandfather used to repeat to me the old rhyme that runs “The cuckoo comes in April and sings his song in May. In the
middle of June he changes his tune and in July he flies away”. This is pretty accurate, except that it is now known that
young cuckoos do not leave for the south until August or September, making their own way to somewhere in Africa – we
still don’t know exactly where.
In flight, cuckoos look rather like small falcons with extremely long tails. The wing-beat is strong and the flight
Collared dove – Streptopilia decaocto
This is now such a familiar bird that it may surprise some people that it was a great rarity in England just 50 years ago.
I wonder whether anyone can remember the first collared doves to breed in Kingston. Please let me know if you can! The
first record of a nest in the UK was in 1955, in Norfolk. Now there are thought to be around 250,000 pairs. They seem to
have integrated fairly effortlessly and, birders aside, almost unnoticed, displacing no longer-established species,
causing no damage and little annoyance, with the possible exception of their endlessly repeated call – coo COO coo –
which can frazzle the nerve-endings in the morning, especially of anyone who has over-indulged the previous night..
Had the birds been asylum seekers instead, I wonder whether their arrival would have been treated with such equanimity.
Collared doves often provide a substantial meal for sparrowhawks, in Kingston as elsewhere, but attempting to rescue
them from these predators is a pointless and ultimately a cruel exercise, both because an injured bird is unlikely to
survive for very long and as the poor sparrowhawk will simply be driven to find a substitute meal. Hawks must eat!
Collared doves may be seen and heard throughout the year all over the village and often nest in gardens. In England at
least, they are predominantly associated with areas of human settlement and rarely seen far from them.