THOSE of you who have heard a cuckoo this summer are lucky indeed.
Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare’s Henry IV warned his son not to become too common in the eyes of the public: not to be “like the cuckoo is in June - heard, not regarded”.
Many birds and their birdsong are rarer than once was the case, so on a recent Field Club walk through woods at Calke Abbey,
I was delighted to hear a wealth of bird-song - but no cuckoos.
There has apparently been a 65 per cent fall in their numbers since the 1980s, for reasons not fully known.
Meadow pipits have also declined, a favourite foster-bird for the cuckoo, but not so drastically - so that is not the sole cause.
You will probably have seen or heard about the tagging of a number of cuckoos by the British Trust for Ornithology; many made it on migration from the UK to Morocco and other parts of Africa, but failed to survive to return, for a number of reasons.
Bird numbers tend to fluctuate and perhaps things may improve for the cuckoo.
In 1924, the naturalist WH Hudson stayed for a while in a stone cottage near Axe Edge, and was quite disturbed by the many cuckoos that kept him awake from three in the morning:
“They would call so loudly and persistently as to banish sleep... and all day long, all over the moor, birds were cuckooing as they flew hither and thither.”
Hudson believed that the cuckoo transported its eggs in its bill to its chosen nest - not so!
Nor does the cuckoo miraculously change into a merlin for the winter months, hawklike though it is; or spend that time in a torpid state in a hollow tree, as English naturalists of the 17th century believed.
Strange birds with fascinating habits: in July, away they fly, says the song; but in August, “away they must”.