Cuckoos are like politicians who don’t do well in an election. They cannot form a government. All they have is a sense of homelessness. Typical of any brood parasite they are always looking for hosts to make up the numbers. They get others to do their work for them at no expense to themselves.
The cuckoo seeks the nests of others where her young will be reared. A type of freeloader! When she arrives, she spends her time searching out other nests so that she can lay her own eggs in host nests by mimicking the host’s egg colour. She can visit between 12 and 20 nests in a season laying eggs. It’s as if she was part of some grand coalition, a great rainbow alliance of feathers.
Was she thrown out of some great avian heaven for misbehaving? Condemned to a life of aloneness? There are claims that there is not even a collective noun for cuckoos. Just like some politicians, they seek alliances, freeload on others and are only seen when the sun shines.
In lockdown Sheeaune, if you are careful enough, patient enough and observant enough you will notice proud little blue tits extending the wing of friendship to cuckoos, who, as a rule, do not associate with such small fry.
Collectively known as a ‘banditry’, these little blue tits are small but think they can continue to rule the roost. They also have traits of every word associated with their collective description. They like to be the centre of attention, always, and power brokers.
Their larger cousins, the great tits, are also in on the act. They too are seeking the company of cuckoos. Great tits have a good dash of yellow. In olden days some say it was more of a green hue but over time it has seeped into cowardly yellow. These boys look to the past for their ‘great days’.
Nowadays they will nest with anyone to ensure that they ‘have the numbers’ to maintain the lifestyle in which they have become so accustomed. Great tits always looked down on their brambled blue tit cousins but not now. Needs do what needs must, birds of a feather and all that!
There’s more! Greenfinches are also at the table, asserting their pecking order and examining the possibility of nest hosting. They did it before but realised that the young cuckoos evicted all the young greenbacks and almost threatened the livelihood of the species. Numbers recovered well, especially this spring, so they’re eager again for a little nest sharing. You can hear them everywhere with their oversized beaks, mouthing off chirpy cheeps that sound like ‘seven percent, seven percent…’.
The cuckoo is like the parliamentary whip for all the species. She jumps from nest to nest leaving her trail everywhere. To have her on side she must be allowed to lay in the host nest. That means she will replace a host egg with one of her own, like a policy dilution. Sharing has a price.
Even the robin that dared to halt my briar clearing over a fortnight ago is more brazen. Her brood has already fledged and the little boys are awaiting the stripe of red to be painted across their breasts. It’s all a labour of love for these little fellows, with more questions than answers, trooping up and down the garden to the sound of ‘Kelly the Boy from Killane.’
Meanwhile, oblivious to it all, perched high in the treetops is the beautiful blackbird, dressed in a mourning veil. The poetry of his music is pure power, melting the cacophony of his feathered colleagues. He is urging us away from the ‘same old, same old’.
Forced to sing in the dead of night it is time to let him fly ‘into the light of the dark black night’. Who will be there to strengthen his broken wings? Ignored by all, he stands alone, honourable but unsupported.
Blue tits, great tits and greenfinches continue to play the cuckoo game with robins rabble-rousing in the wings. All ignore the stately blackbird. A suitable collective noun for such a rainbow coalition would be a parliament of cuckoos.