The cuckoo’s song is beautiful and easily recognizable; in fact, in many places throughout the world, this flute-like call is a sure sign that warmer weather has arrived. If you’ve never heard this birdsong, you may be wondering, when do cuckoos call? What time of year are you most likely to hear them, and what does it mean when you do hear the song? Let’s find out!
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When and Where Do Cuckoos Sing?
Cuckoos are perhaps most well-known for the distinctive “cuckoo, cuckoo” birdsong for which they are named. But just because there are cuckoos living in your area, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll hear them singing.
Cuckoos sing primarily during the breeding season, which begins in late spring and lasts through the summer months. But, since cuckoos are migratory birds, they may or may not breed while staying in a particular region.
For example, the common cuckoo spends the breeding season in Europe, where its song is a well-known cadence during the late spring and summer before the bird returns to Africa.
According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the common cuckoo has never been heard to sing in Africa despite spending up to 9 months a year there.
That doesn’t mean cuckoos don’t make any sound during the “off-season,” as they sometimes make squawking or cawing noises. But the highly familiar “cuckoo” song occurs most frequently during the breeding season, and the other sounds they make are not as easily recognizable.
As we explained here, around 40% of cuckoos are considered brood parasites with no direct contact with their “biological” parents. This implies that large part of their behavior, including the cuckoo’s call, is innate rather than learnt.
What Season Do Cuckoos Sing the Most?
Cuckoos are most often heard singing in the spring and summer.
If you live in the U.K., you will probably hear the most cuckoo songs between late April and late June. If you live in the U.S., depending on your region, you may hear cuckoos singing anytime between March and July.
In other parts of the world, spring and summer may come at different times, but this is still the most common season to hear the cuckoo’s song. In spring and summer, conditions are ideal for breeding, and the distinctive birdsong is part of the cuckoo’s mating ritual.
Is it too Early to Hear a Cuckoo?
Regardless of your region, you probably won’t hear cuckoos singing before late spring, when the weather is consistently mild to warm. If you live in areas closer to the equator, you may notice the birdsong earlier or more frequently because the breeding season may be longer.
If you don’t hear cuckoos in your region, it may be too early for them. If it’s winter, no matter where you are in the world, you’re unlikely to hear a cuckoo because it isn’t the breeding season.
If you live in a cooler region, it’s likely that the local cuckoos migrate to a warmer area during the winter. In that case, you will not hear them singing until they have migrated back to your area.
If you’re observant and listen to the cuckoos regularly, you will begin to get an idea when they are most likely to return to your region. It is possible that you’ll hear them earlier or later than usual from time to time, depending on weather and climate fluctuations.
What about the time of day? What time are you most likely to hear cuckoos calling to each other?
Cuckoos are frequently heard singing during the early morning or late evening, though they can be heard at any time of day. They have been known to call very early, around dawn or slightly before, as well as late at night.
Check out a video of the distinctive bird call below:
Do Cuckoos Call When Flying?
To make the cuckoo sound requires a certain amount of effort and specific movements. As you might imagine, it’s easier for the bird to perform its call while perched.
But, while most cuckoos sing from a perched position, there are times when they will also sing during flight. This generally happens during courtship or when a male bird is flying around a female bird, trying to get her attention.
What Other Bird Sounds Like a Cuckoo?
In the United States, some people may mistake the song of the mourning dove for that of the cuckoo. Like the cuckoo, the mourning dove’s call is soft, melodic, and sounds much like a flute.
Unlike the cuckoo, however, the mourning dove’s song typically has between three and five syllables, and the rhythm is generally slower. The cuckoo sings a more punchy “COO-coo,” while the mourning dove gives a more ethereal “COOOO-coo-coo-coo-coo.”
In parts of Europe and Asia, the song of the collared dove is frequently mistaken for a cuckoo’s call. Again, the timbre and melodic quality of the collared dove’s call is strikingly similar to that of the cuckoo.
The main difference is that the collared dove’s song has three syllables instead of two, and the stress is on the second syllable. A collared dove’s song sounds like “coo-COOO-coo.”
What Does it Mean When You Hear the Cuckoo?
Hearing the cuckoo’s song means that it’s cuckoo breeding season. If you’re hearing a lot of cuckoo calls, then the birds in your area are looking for mates or actively involved in courtship.
Male cuckoos sing to attract females, and females sing a unique bubbly sort of response throughout their courtship rituals. They breed randomly and often with several different cuckoos during the same breeding season.
This is why you hear the call frequently and over a period of weeks or months. Once the birds have mated and the female has laid her first batch of eggs, it’s time to move on and find another mate.
Depending on species, female cuckoos may lay as many as 50 eggs in a single breeding season. As brood parasites, many species do not raise their own young, instead laying their eggs in the nests of other birds.
Cuckoos sing their distinctive song throughout spring and summer, during the mating season. They coo to attract mates and throughout their mating rituals.
If you don’t hear cuckoos in your area, it may simply be too early in the year, as they don’t usually begin mating until late spring. You probably won’t hear any cuckoos singing outside of the breeding season unless you are familiar with the other types of calls they give.