Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus
The Common Cuckoo is famous for the male's "cuckoo-clock" call, a traditional harbinger of spring in
Europe, celebrated in the 13th Century English song: "Sumer is icumen in/ Lhude sing cuccu!" The species
is also the most notorious nest parasite in the bird kingdom. The cuckoo shown here, photographed
in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, California on October 1, 2012, became famous for yet another reason:
the species is so rare in North America south of Alaska that this bird was only the second Common Cuckoo
ever seen in the lower 48 states.
This bird is a juvenile, as indicated by the diagnostic white patch visible on the nape in these pictures. It's color
assigns it to the hepatic (rufous) morph of the species; most Common Cuckoos are gray.
The closely related Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus) is very similar in appearance, and has, like the Common,
also reached Alaska from Siberia, though less frequently than its more celebrated cousin. The features that
led experts to identify this bird as a Common rather than an Oriental Cuckoo include the fine (rather than bold)
barring of the underwings, seen in the bottom two pictures, and a rump that is solid rufous rather than black-barred,
as seen in all three of the flight pictures.
Many viewers swarmed to Watsonville Slough in southern Santa Cruz County in the days between September 28, 2012, when the bird was first seen and tentatively identified, and October 3, when it was last seen. When I arrived on the sunny morning of Monday, October 1, I soon found a large group of birders and photographers on a path looking down on a clump of willows in the bottom of a ravine where the bird was perched mostly in the open, as shown in the picture at the top. Not long after I got my camera on the bird it flew, and I was able to get the three flight pictures shown above and below. I stayed several hours more, but the bird didn't emerge into the open again.