Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: Cuckoo – Cheating by Nature

One of the last books I read was Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature written by the talented Nick Davies from the University of Cambridge. I’m not one to often read books about birds (I like to keep things nice and broad where possible) but I knew this book would be an interesting read. One of my PhD supervisors based at the British Trust for Ornithology (in Thetford) and studies reed warblers. Whilst I’ve been chasing snakes in the grass at my fieldsite, he’s been chasing warblers in the reeds. I therefore picked up this book to help shed some light on cuckoos and their favourite hosts in the fens, reed warblers. Whilst walking around my fieldsite, I often hear and see cuckoos going about their daily business as I collect data on grass snakes.

The call of the cuckoo is something that is familiar to all of those that have heard it and even those that haven’t, as it is encapsulated within the cuckoo’s name. Cuckoos are also known as being the only obligate brood parasite found among UK birds. The females do nothing to help with the raising of their young (neither do the males), instead they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds that then leaves them to do all of the hard work. What I wasn’t aware of until I read this book was how important egg mimicry was to the cuckoo’s success. Davies sheds whole beams of light into the private life of cuckoos based on his 30+ years in the field studying these birds.

If you want to fully understand cuckoos, this is the book for you! It is a great natural history book, written by a talented author and researcher. All of the information is easily accessible so it doesn’t matter if you’re a birder or not – if you love natural history then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this book!


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