Robin attack on Cuckoo´s head

The European Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, has always been a miraculous bird. His loud and simple song and his arrival as a migrant in Europe signaling spring time made him one of the best-known birds in Europe. Quite recently his migration made the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) track Cuckoos via attached satellite-tracking devices to find out more about their important stop-over sites and wintering destinations on the way to and from Africa. Very reknown – but not often seen – is the cuckoo´s notorious behavior to parasite other birds brood. Especially this attidude made him unique in the awareness also for people in Europe who are not claiming to be keen birdwatchers.
During a stay in the wild landscape of masuria in north-eastern Poland I witnessed the long-lasting fight between a female Common Cuckoo and a pair of Robins, Erithacus rubecula, over a nest inside a common hornbeam, Carpinus betulus. Interesting enough, there was not one single egg laid already. Normally it is said, that a female Cuckoo, visiting the nest of a songbird like a Dunnock or a Robin, will remove one of the bird’s eggs before laying one of her own directly into the nest. Individual female Cuckoos specialise on one host species. The eggs of the different host species vary in colour and pattern and, since an unusual looking egg is likely to be rejected by the host, there is a selection pressure on the female Cuckoo to produce eggs that closely resemble those of the host. Dunnock and Robin are thought to show some tolerance against “foreign” eggs. But nevertheless, this is why individual female Cuckoos tend to specialise on one particular host.
When I arrived at the parking lot at 15:00 I saw a cuckoo chased in high speed by a songbird through the canopy of a big oak tree. 15 minutes later, the screams of Common Cuckoo could be heard still. After a long walk of 3 hours, mobbing was still in full swing. I managed to shot pictures of the fight between a robin (mainly the male) and the cuckoo for at least 1 hour in that evening. At a few occasions, I saw the female Cuckoo press his underbody at the narrow split in the hornbeam. I wondered weather this big bird could expect to lay her egg through an entrance of a maximum of 3 centimeters.
The fight was sometimes furious, sometimes the exhausted birds just sit and wait. The whole time the soft calls of at least 3 Wood Warbler, Phylloscopus sibilatrix, fill the air, too. Eventually the Common Cuckoo had to give up. A Fieldfare, Turdus pilaris, chased him out of the forest. Poor Cuckoo, good luck for the robins.
About 56 of the Old World species and 3 of the New World species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. The best-known example is the European Common Cuckoo. Cuckoos have evolved various strategies for getting their egg into a host nest. Different species but also different indivuduals of the same species use different strategies based on host defensive strategies. Female cuckoos have evolved secretive and fast laying behaviors, but in some cases, males have been shown to lure host adults away from their nests so that the female can lay her egg in the nest. In the case described above, the female act alone. In the 4 hours of observation, no male cuckoo was seen. Birds – like the robin – whose nests are at high risk of cuckoo-contamination are known to mob cuckoos to drive them out of the area. It is interesting that, the shells of the eggs of brood-parasites are usually quite thick. They have two distinct layers with an outer chalky layer that is believed to provide resistance to cracking when the eggs are dropped in the host nest. The cuckoo egg hatches earlier than the host’s, and the cuckoo chick grows faster. The cuckoo chick evicts the eggs or young of the host species.
To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic. Trips to remote places to capture images of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. Part of the images gained are photos of Baillon’s Crake, Heuglin’s Gull and Imperial Eagle. This nice image is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Pictures Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if I could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.
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