[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
THE well-known notes of this bird, in spite of their monotony, are heard with pleasure from the grove, in the beginning of spring, as a sure prognostic of fine weather. His timidity keeps him in the thickets; and few men can boast of having spied him when he was singing. His natural idleness prevents his taking the trouble of making a nest: and Dr. Willoughby and Mr. Ray, two very celebrated Ornithologists, assure us, that they have ascertained the fact of the female Cuckow laying her egg in the nest of some little birds, when the mother is absent. The stranger is hatched, and educated as one of the family; and is said to repay his friends with the utmost ingratitude, by killing, or expelling from the nest, the young of the real possessor of it.
The Cuckow is about the size of a Magpie; his length being about twelve inches, from the tip of the bill to the end of the tail. He is remarkable for his round prominent nostrils; the lower part of the body is of yellowish colour, with black transverse lines on the throat and across the breast; the head and upper part of the body and wings are beautifully marked with black and tawny stripes, and on the top of the head there are a few white spots. The tail is long, and on the exterior part, or edges of the feathers, there are several white marks; the ground colour of the body is a sort of grey. The legs are short and covered with feathers, and the feet composed of four toes, two before and two behind.
The Cuckow feeds upon caterpillars and other insects. Several fabulous accounts have been given by ancient naturalists, which it would be as useless to mention, ridiculous to believe; however, it is certain, that his name in every known language is associated with an idea of contempt.
“Of spurious birth, first harbinger of spring,
The timid Cuckow, from the leafy grove,
Now and anon sighs iterated notes,
And wakes the field and wood-land quiristers
To sweeter melody, whilst, from the hill,
Responsive echo, mimicking his call,
Renders bis doubted station more secure.”
The Cowslip, one of the first daughters of spring, by its blooming at the same time when the Cuckow begins to sing, is called in France by the same name, and in some other countries by a name similar to it.