Cuckoo, declining in numbers in Czech Republic, named Bird of Year

Photo: Steve Garvie, Creative Commons 2.0

The common cuckoo has just been named Bird of the Year 2010 by the Czech Society for Ornithology. One of the aims of the annual award is to draw attention to the problems faced by particular species of birds. In the case of the cuckoo, ornithologists report a baffling fall in numbers over the last few decades.

Cuckoo,  photo: Steve Garvie,  Creative Commons 2.0
The call of the cuckoo is regarded as the first harbinger of spring in many parts of Europe, though that sound is unfortunately becoming rarer, with several countries seeing a decline in numbers.

The Czech Society for Ornithology has just named the cuckoo the Bird of the Year 2010. The head of the organisation Zdeněk Vermouzek explains why.

“Given that this is the Year of Biodiversity we wanted to choose a breed that would be sufficiently well known to all Czechs. I’d go so far as to say that there’s nobody in this country who doesn’t know the cuckoo, or hasn’t heard of it. At the same time, the bird has broader cultural significance, if we consider various superstitions and lore linked to particular times of the year.”

Czech ornithologists say that as elsewhere there has been a steep decline in the cuckoo population here over the last 20 or 30 years. As to why, however, they are not entirely sure.

Photo: CTK
“We can assume that it is because of changes in agriculture, which has become more intensive, with mechanisation and the use of insecticides and other factors whose influence it is hard to prove. But at the same time it could be due to changes in conditions at the cuckoo’s wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Cuckoos are what are known as brood parasites, which means they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, and the only such parasites to be found in the central Europe region. By the way, their behaviour is said to explain the provenance of the word cuckold.