I am very pleased to be able to report that we have a baby dunnock in the garden. It was only yesterday I was bemoaning the lack of babies and now here she is. About time too! I spotted her being fed by mum and dad while I was treating an elderly patient this morning (almost ninety and as svelte and spry as someone half her age). She is feeding and flying independently (the bird, not the old lady), so I am hopeful that she won't succumb to the unwarranted attentions of a magpie or indeed Ted.
I noticed a few days ago that the steps into the garage had become littered with sunflower seed husks. As the feeder is on the other side of the fence I was really puzzled as to how they could have got there. Some assiduous detective work soon unlocked the mystery....
I am a total softy for mice and have spent ages watching these two playing over the past couple of days. They tend to be most active when the light is starting to fade so if you sit by the kitchen window at dusk and wait it generally isn't long before they come out from under the bamboo. They are endlessly playful and ever so quick and just watching them makes me smile. M is less chuffed at their presence. He considers them small rats and keeps muttering darkly that two mice are just about ok but if any more appear action will be taken to deal with them. I haven't inquired exactly what that means, but it's all nonsense anyway- he wouldn't hurt the mice because it wouldn't be worth the ensuing marital disharmony.
After listening to the Cuckoos changing their tune over the past few days I have been doing some investigative work and discovered some interesting "Cuckoo Facts" I thought I'd share with you.
1. Only the male cuckoo calls "cuckoo", and as the spring progresses the double-note tends to change.
2. The female’s bubbling call is often said to resemble the sound of bath water running out when the plug is pulled (although listening to it over the last few days I think it sounds more like an ethereal car engine spluttering. Apparently the females tend to call just after laying an egg).
3. Though there are 54 species of Old World Cuckoos, just two live in Europe: most live in Africa, Asia and Australasia. The resident African cuckoo looks virtually identical to our bird, but has more orange-yellow on the beak. It also calls pooh-pooh… (oh the fun we could have had with that one).
4. The common cuckoo is the only member of the family that calls cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo… Most of the others have loud voices but totally different calls. (I wish they'd said what).
5. It is traditional to write to The Times when you hear the first cuckoo of spring. (That's one for next year...).
6. Each season a female will lay between 12 and 22 eggs, all in different nests (but usually the same host breed).
7. More than 120 species have been parasitised by cuckoos in Europe. In Britain the most favoured host species are dunnock, meadow pipit, pied wagtail, robin and reed bunting. (perhaps explains why we have so many - we have a definite cornucopia when it comes to dunnocks).
8. Unlike most birds, female cuckoos lay single eggs in the afternoon on alternate days rather than in the morning and usually remove one or more of the host's eggs to make way for their own. Hmm, naughty :-(
9. Though cuckoo eggs usually resemble those of their host, around 20% are rejected so never hatch
10. Adult cuckoos move back to Africa as soon as the breeding season is over – as early as the second half of June in southern England. Young cuckoos follow their parents back to Africa several weeks later.
11. The cuckoo spends nine months of the year in tropical Africa, where it has never been heard to sing.
12. Within a few of hours of hatching the young cuckoo ejects the host's remaining eggs or hatchlings by pushing them out of the nest.
13. Female cuckoos are often attacked by the host bird if found near the nest (not surprised, I'd be pretty p'd off if a strange woman dumped her children in my house without asking and then pretended they were mine).
14. Female cuckoos spend a considerable amount of time perching, watching for host nests. (I have a mental image of a slightly sinister cuckoo in a mac and a trilby staking out a local nest...)
15. They defend the same territory in successive years.
And my personal favourite:
16) A female cuckoo will generally lay her eggs in a nest belonging to the same species of bird that reared her.