Cuckoos are birds in the Cuculidae family. The cuckoo family includes the common European cuckoo, roadrunners, koels, malkohas, cocas, coucals and anis. The cuckoos are generally medium-sized slender birds. Most species live in trees. It is called arboreal habitat. Some are ground-living also. Cuckoos are found all over the world. Mainly in the tropical areas. The cuckoos feed on insects, insect larvae as well as fruit. Some species of the cuckoo lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Some species raise their own young. The feathers of the cuckoos are generally soft and often become waterlogged in heavy rain. Cuckoos often sun themselves after rain and the anis hold their wings open in the manner of a vulture while drying. The young of the koels resemble the young of the host. For example, the Asian koels breeding in India has black offspring to resemble their crow host.
Cullinan is the most widespread subfamily of cuckoos and is distributed across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Oceania. The coucals are distributed from Africa through tropical Asia down into Australia and the Solomon Islands. For the cuckoos, a good habit is required for food. Cuckoos are abundantly found in tropical rain forests. The cuckoos are generally solitary birds – rarely in pairs or groups. The cuckoos are generally diurnal. Some are nocturnal. Some call-in day and some call-in night. The cuckoos are shy. They are more often heard than seen. The cuckoos are much maligned for laying their eggs in other birds’ nests. It is inexplicable even for the naturalists, why such behaviour is exhibited by cuckoos. It may be that they are lazy birds.
They are singing birds. They do not want to waste time building nests, laying eggs incubating them and feeding the young. The parasitic behaviour of the cuckoo remains unexplained. But researchers say that parasitism is not necessarily entirely detrimental to the host species. A strong-smelling predator repelling substance is seer eked by cuckoo chicks when attacked. Cuckoos are famous for their calls. Wide variety of calls resembling whistles, flutes, or hiccups. The calls are used in order to demonstrate ownership of a territory and to attract a mate. Cuckoos are not raised by true parents.
Still, then they call beautifully. That means the calls of cuckoos are innate and not learnt. The Odiya poet Nand Kishore Bal had written a beautiful poem – Prabhata Bihanga (The morning Bird) Koel has been depicted as the morning Bird. The poet says even if the call – Koo Koo is meaningless, in fact, it has several and infinite meanings when viewed from an aesthetic sense. An example is a sky which is colourless. But when reflected or refracted by the sun’s rays, the sky becomes myriad coloured. So koel’s call although a vacuum, can conjure up tricks and miracles.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)
Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur. He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published in Kolkata.
He can be reached at [email protected]