Waiting for the cuckoo in Tlell last week were birders who migrated all the way from Victoria and Vancouver. (Peter Hamel/Submitted)

The Common Cuckoo — a rare bird from Asia

By Peter Hamel

Last Monday, June 11 aboard the Northern Adventure sailing for Prince Rupert we received an urgent message that set my heard pounding.

“Mike Richardson in Tlell here. Have you ever seen a Cuckoo bird? I think I have one in my yard down here in Tlell! People say it’s the first record for B.C.”

Mike first saw this adult bird the day before as it flew into the willow beside the driveway. At first he thought it was a young Peregrine Falcon — its head, chest, upper body and forewing were pale gray, and it had a darker tail. The wings were long, narrow and sharply pointed. It reminded me of a pigeon and is the same size. This species is very similar to the Oriental Cuckoo, also found in Eastern Asia. A key difference is the song. Both Mike and Jane heard it several times: a loud repetitive “cuck-kooo.”

Yes Mike, Margo heard it many times growing up in coastal Ireland. Peter saw two in southern Spain on April 14, 1967 and five years later, in April, he witnessed their spring northward migration in eastern Kenya.

But this is the first record for B.C. and only the second for Canada. Another was seen in eastern Quebec.

This bird regularly breeds in northwest Africa and Western Europe, and east across Eurasia to China, Japan and northeast Russia. There are a number of Common Cuckoo records in June for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands: one from Anchorage and one near Sitka on June 8 to 10, 2015. California has a late September record.

This bird follows the pattern of being a “drift vagrant” or an “overshoot” with many records in early to mid-June. This is only the second bird we know of that vocalized.

Cuckoos are known to fly up to 3,000 km nonstop during spring migration and need suitable food once they land. Mike’s “cuckoo-bird” was able to find that in his front field in Tlell. We spent a glorious late afternoon watching the bird pounce many times on prey from fenceposts into short grass and tilled soil. Once it had fuelled up it may have moved on that night.

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