Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Common Cuckoo Has a Strange Diet

Welcome to my brand spanking new Animal Facts blog! My goal is to bring you fun or interesting facts about animals each day, but I hope you'll forgive me if I miss a day here and there.

Anyway, since it's April Fools' Day, I decided to launch this blog than with some information about the bird that likes to make a fool of other birds -- the common cuckoo!

Cuculus canorus vogelartinfo chris romeiks CHR0431
© Vogelartinfo (via Wikimedia Commons)
The Common Cuckoo dines on toxic caterpillars.
The Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is fairly popular due to the use of its likeness in clocks, its "coo-coo" call, and that cartoon bird who's cuckoo for a certain chocolate flavored cereal. Many people also know them because they are brood parasites -- birds that sneak their eggs into the nests of other birds and leave the host parent(s) to raise the chicks. Another tidbit about the Common Cuckoo has to do with this bird's diet.

Like many birds, cuckoos eat insects, spiders, worms, and caterpillars. However, there are some caterpillars that absorb toxins from the plants they eat, becoming toxic themselves. Most birds have learned to avoid these critters, but not the cuckoo. She doesn't let something as trifling as deadly poison keep her from her tasty meal. She simply bites the caterpillar's head off, and then shakes the body to expel the toxins before swallowing it down. I should also mention that many of these caterpillars are covered with barbed hairs, but that's no problem for the cuckoo either. She periodically sheds her stomach lining, embedded barbed hairs and all, and regurgitates it as a pellet.

Bonus Fact: The Common Cuckoo is native to Europe and Asia. It's North American cousins are the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Black-Billed Cuckoo, and the Greater Roadrunner. All three of these species raise their own young, however, the Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos will occasionally lay eggs in the nests of other birds.

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