11 April 2011

J'ai vu le coucou

Jean-Claude Chantelat writes in his book Les Oiseaux de France (2003):
« On connaît son chant, si caractérisque au printemps, et ses mœurs particulières... Mais combien d'observateurs ont vu le coucou gris ? » — ["We know its call, so characteristic in springtime, and its unusual behaviors... But how many bird-watchers have actually seen a cuckoo bird?"]
Well, I have. We have a cuckoo in the area that likes to perch at the very top of the big Himalayan cedar in our yard and do its cuckooing call these spring mornings. And now that we have our loft and can get to the upper-story windows to look out, I can actually see the cuckoo. That's « le coucou » in French.

The cuckoo perched in the top of our tall cedar tree
(sorry I couldn't get a better picture)

If you've ever heard a cuckoo clock "chime" the hour, you know what the cuckoo sounds like. In fact, when we first moved here, a friend came from the western U.S. for a visit. The first morning she was here, she emerged from the guest bedroom at an early hour and requested that we turn off the cuckoo clock so that she might sleep a little later the next day. We told her that we didn't have a cuckoo clock, but an actual cuckoo bird, and there wasn't much we could do about the loud cuckooing.

Another book we have, The New Birdwatcher's Pocket Guide to Britain and Europe, calls the cuckoo bird a "familiar disembodied voice." The cuckooing in Europe starts in April, when the birds return from their winter territories in southeastern Africa. The cuckoos fly back down there in July or August. We only hear them cuckooing from April through June. If you don't want to be awakened by them early in the morning, don't come to Saint-Aignan in springtime.

Still another bird book on the shelf, the Collins New Generation Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe, says that the female cuckoo lays 25 eggs per season. That would be a lot of eggs in one nest, but no problem, of course. The cuckoo never builds one. She just lays each egg in the nest of other birds, after pushing out the eggs she finds there. The other birds hatch her egg and feed her little one until it fledges and then flies back to Africa.


  1. Je suis "scotchée" par autant de curiosités que vous semblez avoir à propos de tout . C'est un vrai régal de vous lire tous les jours .

    je lis votre blog depuis seulement 6 mois ,je suis asiatique et vis en France ( en Auvergne ) depuis 3 décennies mais je n'ai pas hélas votre talent pour écrire .


  2. Our favourite visitor to the garden is the Hoopoo. Beautiful bird and their who-who-who calls are so relaxing. (SW France by the way)

  3. Ken, isn't the Hoopoo another bird that you posted about a few times? About seeing it on the side of the road? Wasn't that occasion with the same West Coast friend as the Coucou experience? :))


  4. When I've lived in Europe I realized why the word cuckoo also means crazy. It's how one feels when listening to them too long! But I've never actually seen one until your picture today.

  5. When I lived in South Uist, we looked forward to the cuckoo as spring was definitely on the way,I would often see a little bird with the cuckoo usually perched on telephone wires as not many trees grow in the Hebrides.
    Your apple blossom is stunning Ken

  6. We don't have les coucous, but we have a bird with an even more annoying call...wood pigeons. Unfortunately for us, they make their racket all year long. To make matters worse, they like to sit on our shutters to make that noise.

  7. Merci de votre gentil commentaire, NL.

    Lesley, we have hoopoes around here too, but probably fewer than you have down in the southwest. Depends on the year.

    Judy, the friend I was with when I saw the hoopoe on the Ile d'Oléron is Cheryl. The friend with the request about the cuckoo clock is Sharon.

    Patricia, thanks. The only place I've ever seen a cuckoo is at the top of that tall cedar tree. Usually, we hear them off in the woods, where they remain invisible but their call is clear.

    Starman, we have a lot of wood pigeons around here. We see them, but we seldom hear their cooing. I know it can be annoying. The droppings are even worse.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?