The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 708/How does the Cuckoo Carry her Egg? Meiklejohn

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How does the Cuckoo Carry her Egg? Meiklejohn
by Arnold Hilary Meiklejohn
3703306How does the Cuckoo Carry her Egg? MeiklejohnArnold Hilary Meiklejohn


By A.H. Meiklejohn.

On May 12th, while on the road between the villages of Hamstreet and Woodchurch, in Kent, I had, to me, the unique experience of seeing a Cuckoo in the very act of placing its egg in the nest of a Robin. The facts are briefly as follows:—I happened to be sitting down by the roadside watching a Wryneck through my glasses, when a Cuckoo flew over my head, and, turning sharply, alighted on a fence-rail about two hundred yards down the road. From there she flew across and entered the opposite hedge, which was raised on a bank covered with a thick undergrowth of nettles, grass, &c. The Cuckoo had scarcely disappeared before she again re-appeared with a small bird in close pursuit, in which two or three Starlings, which evidently had young in the farm-steading opposite, joined. At this moment a man passing in a cart disturbed the Cuckoo, which, flying over the hedge, alighted in the meadow beyond. Noticing the bird's apparent disinclination to leave the place, I walked down the road and lay quietly on the grass opposite to, and at a distance of twelve yards (paced) from, the spot where the Cuckoo first entered the hedge. I had not sat there for more than two minutes when back came the Cuckoo, gliding along the hedge, and finally alighting with a loud squawk exactly opposite me. What struck me at once from this and many subsequent views of the bird was the swollen appearance of her throat, which half-way down showed a distinct protuberance, as might well have been caused by an egg. I several times turned my glasses on her, and at that short range I could plainly see the feathers sticking out over the distended part of her gullet; and, as my subsequent remarks will show, it seems to me that this swelling was caused by her egg. From the moment of alighting to the close of this domestic tragedy, the Cuckoo was attacked with the utmost fury by the pair of Robins, upon whose nest she desired to "board" her offspring. Again and again the little birds struck and buffeted her; and, on two occasions, one of the Robins seized hold of the Cuckoo by the back of the neck and hung on for a few seconds with all the fierce tenacity of a bull-dog. Whenever the Robins made one of their ferocious dives, the Cuckoo threw back her head, opened her great orangecoloured gape, and squawked loudly—ergo, her egg was not carried in her bill. Twice the Cuckoo disappeared into a recess at the root of a hawthorn, and this the Robins in no way resented. Emerging the second time from this recess, the Cuckoo, in spite of the fiercest opposition, alighted with out-spread wings and in a sprawling attitude about three yards further up the hedge. Here, pausing for an instant, during which the Robins got terribly excited, the Cuckoo made a sudden dash amongst the grass and disappeared entirely, except for the end of her tail, which was sticking out and in full view all the time. In two or three seconds she reappeared, and flew straight away out of sight, and so quickly that I was unable to see whether the protuberance in her throat had subsided or not. At once springing up, I ran across the road to the very spot where she had gone in. I put in my hand and felt three eggs, one of which was moist and slightly sticky,—and this egg proved to be that of the Cuckoo. I then went down and examined the recess which she had previously twice entered, and found to my astonishment a Robin's nest from which, by its appearance, the young had but lately flown—and in the hedge I saw a young Robin hopping about. What was the Cuckoo's reason for going to the old nest first? That this nest was in the same place as that which she had remembered as the last year's nursery for her egg seems to be one explanation.

In support of my conviction that this Cuckoo carried her egg in her throat, may I be allowed to re-state the following facts?:—

I. She constantly opened her mouth to utter her continuous squawks of protest,—her egg, therefore, was not carried in her bill.

II. Her tail being visible to me all the time she was engaged at the nest, she did not lay her egg in the usual way.

III. The egg was moist and slightly sticky.

IV. The distended appearance of a certain region of her throat, as shown in the rough sketch below, might well have been caused by the egg.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1932, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 91 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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