Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brood Parasite

Last year in January, John and I rescued a juvenile Diederick Cuckoo. Once we'd examined him, and I'd taken photos, we released him.

Last year during the first week of January I came home from town to see John, the gardener with a bird in the cat carrier! He told me he found it huddled on the patio and concerned that one of the cats would see it there and pounce on it, he kept it in a safe place until I came home.

I carefully removed the bird from the cage and saw that it was a juvenile Diederichs Cuckoo. Now this cuckoo is a brood parasite of a wide range of species, especially bishops, weavers and sparrows. When a cuckoo is due to lay her egg, she watches a bird building and settling in its nest. When the host flies off to eat, she moves in quickly and lays her egg. The host bird comes back and, none the wiser, lays its eggs. The cuckoo egg hatches first and within 2-3 days the baby cuckoo kicks the other eggs or if hatched, the other baby birds out of the nest. They fall to their death below. The cuckoo is then raised by the [much smaller] host bird.

John keeping an eye on the juvenile Diederick Cuckoo while I set up my camera

Yesterday as I was preparing lunch, John came running into the kitchen and said:”Me, tlo ka pele, ka pele” (Madam, come quickly, quickly). He said there was a young bird in a tree in the garden and that I should bring my camera. (How well my gardeners know me...) With my camera in hand, and on the way past the pool table, picking up my Swarovski binoculars , I set off to the garden with John. While walking across the lawn, John told this was the same bird as the one we’d had in hand last year. The whole summer past, we heard the species flying overhead. Their call is a distinct : dee dee diederik but we've never seen an adult close-up.

When we reached the other side of the garden, David was standing under the thorn tree and pointing upwards. I quickly spotted the bird with my binoculars and saw it was, in fact, a juvenile Diederick Cuckoo. I handed my binoculars to John and quickly attached my lens to the camera to photograph the young bird. I wanted to send the pictures to my husband in Khartoum and my s.i.l. in Kwa Zulu Natal who always helps me with my amateur birding attempts. And of course, I wanted to post them on my blog today!At first I was unable to get a good view of the bird in the thorn tree (Acacia karroo) which was most frustrating
Once the cuckoo flew into the white stinkwood (Celtis africana) just beyond the wall in my neighbour's garden, I managed to get beatifully clear shots of it
The juvenile Diederick Cuckoo has a coral red bill
At this stage the juvenile cuckoo resembles the female of this bird species

While photographing the cuckoo, I noticed it kept fluffing its feathers and making a grating call. From a nearby tree, I heard the answering calls of sparrow weavers, but they didn’t fly to him. I’ve also noticed that young birds are not at all jittery and remain in one place for longer than an adult bird would. Eventually I had enough photos and the gardeners wandered off to have their lunch, so I left the cuckoo still calling to its "parents".

Later this afternoon when I returned from dropping Emily at the taxi rank, I walked into the garden. Immediately I heard the same grating call and saw the same juvenile bird in the pepper tree. The “parents” were sitting on a branch above him, answering his call. Then he flew off across the yard and the two White-browed Sparrow Weavers, who are half his size, dashed after him. I watched their flight across the street until I lost sight of them.


  1. That was interesting. Birds are fascinating. I know that we have cuckoos here but have no info on them. Thanks for all your trouble to get those pictures.

  2. Dedene, I'd love to know which cuckoos you get. I've never been aware of them until coming to live in this area. Only then did I see how they "exploit" much smaller birds into caring for their young. Thanks for popping in. Hugs

  3. I enjoyed these pictures and will show them to my oldest. We learned about brood parasites in his science studies this school year (a book/curriculum called Exploring Creation With Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day). I had no idea that this happened amongst birds and found it all fascinating.

  4. flmom, I'm pleased you enjoyed these photos and showed them to your oldest. Yes, it's fascinating how in the case of cuckoos, which are quite large birds, parasite birds quite a bit smaller such as the sparrow weaver in this case. Thanks for popping in. Hugs


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