Can You Shoot Cuckoos?

Cuckoos are migratory birds known for their musical song and their tendency to lay eggs in other birds’ nests. Their brood parasite trait tends to make them pretty unpopular among bird lovers. With this in mind, you may be wondering: can you shoot cuckoos that take up residence in your yard, or are they a protected species? What humane methods can you use to get rid of cuckoos? Read on as we explore answers to these questions.

Is the Cuckoo a Protected Species?

Is the Cuckoo a Protected Species?

Like many birds, cuckoos are declining throughout the world. 

In the U.S., for example, in California, these migratory birds have declined from 15,000 mating pairs to just 40 mating pairs within 100 years.

Even in the United Kingdom, where the common cuckoo is a well-known summer visitor, it’s estimated that only about 20,000 mating pairs exist, and those numbers seem to be going down as well.

These declines are primarily due to habitat loss. New World cuckoos have lost around 90 percent of the habitat they need to survive and thrive, prompting the Audubon Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate 300,000 acres of the western U.S. as critical habitat for cuckoos.

On a global scale, cuckoos are listed as a threatened species by the IUCN. Nationally, several countries have passed rulings to protect these and other migratory birds.

In the U.S., cuckoos are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Canada has a similar protective policy in place, the Migratory Bird Convention Act, which also protects cuckoos.

In the U.K., cuckoos have a conservation status of red and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

With all of these acts and rulings in place, it is safe to say that cuckoos are protected throughout much of their range. 

The hope is that these protective measures will help the species to recover and increase in number once again.

Can You Shoot Cuckoos?

It is illegal to harm any of the birds protected in the acts discussed above. This includes cuckoos.

This means you cannot legally shoot cuckoos if you live in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. You also cannot trap, capture, injure, poison, or tamper with their wellbeing in any other way.

It is also unlawful to tamper with a cuckoo’s nest during the breeding season if it is being used or constructed.

These laws are broad and far-reaching. Simply put, however, they protect cuckoos and other migratory and wild birds from all kinds of human-caused harm and danger.

If you are trying to get rid of cuckoos in your area, you will have to be very careful in how you do it. You may not kill these birds, harm them in any way, or remove their nests or young during the breeding season.

So, what can you do?

What Can You Do to Get Rid of Cuckoos?

Many people don’t like cuckoos because of their reputation as brood parasites. They will often lay their eggs in the nest of other birds, and upon hatching, the baby cuckoos will push other eggs or chicks over the edge of the nest, as you can see in the following video:

This behavior has been observed in the Old World cuckoos far more than the New World cuckoos. New world species such as yellow-billed cuckoos typically build their own nests and raise their own young. 

There may be other reasons you want to get rid of the cuckoos in your yard. Perhaps they are chasing away other bird species or eating the fruit off of your berry bushes. 

The good news is that cuckoos are typically shy around humans. Most people are far more familiar with their song than with their appearance, as cuckoos tend to stick to the cover of trees, shrubs, and bushes.

Still, if you hear them singing and suspect they are causing problems, you may want to get rid of them using legal, humane methods. 

The best way to keep cuckoos away from your yard is to scare them away. You can do this in a variety of ways:

  • Hang shiny objects such as old CDs and DVDs throughout your yard. These objects reflect the light in inconsistent and unpredictable patterns, which scares all kinds of birds away.
  • Buy a predator deterrent. Yard statues that look like foxes or owls may keep birds away by making them think there is a predator guarding the territory.
  • Use smells to chase them away. Birds avoid certain smells such as predator urine and strong-smelling herbs; having these smells around your yard will help to keep the cuckoos away.
  • Install bird spikes. Bird spikes can be mounted to any place you see cuckoos regularly perching; the spikes will prevent birds from landing in these spots by making it impossible for them to perch.

While all of these are viable solutions for keeping birds away, they are not targeted specifically against cuckoos. They will deter birds of all species.

Unfortunately, there is no good way to isolate the cuckoo species and chase it away while keeping your yard a welcoming haven for other birds. 

The best thing you can do is to remove the bird deterrents from your yard as soon as you are certain you have gotten rid of the resident cuckoos.

While it’s possible more cuckoos will move into the territory, it will also open your yard back up to other bird species.

You may find it necessary to use the above deterrents again to get rid of new broods of cuckoos. If so, simply use them until the cuckoos have moved on, then remove them again.

Keeping cuckoos away may not be a simple job if you also want to attract other birds to your yard. But, with a little time and patience, you may be able to convince these singing migratory birds to move on for good.


Cuckoos are a protected species in countries such as the U.S., the U.K., and Canada; therefore, it is illegal to shoot them in these countries. If you want to get them out of your yard, try using humane deterrents such as bird spikes, predator statues, and shiny objects to chase them away.

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