A Platinum Cuckoo Serenade for the Queen

This year we waited ages to hear our first Cuckoo.

I’d nearly given up and then in late May we heard one occasionally, but always very distant. Was this the beginning of the end for them locally?

Then on a glorious early morning on the Thursday Bank Holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, I was outside capturing the special soft light and sounds first thing, when I thought I heard one, in the distance. I pressed the video record button, and most unusually (in my experience) the male Cuckoo just kept singing, as he flew closer.

Allowing for a few missed calls, I make it well over 50 consecutive “cuck-oos”. Not quite 70, maybe, but then perhaps their counting skills fail as the number grows larger? Certainly something I’ve never captured as well before on camera, in many years of trying.

What a special treat, and a wonderful way to start our own quiet Jubilee celebrations.

Was the Cuckoo, or Gwcw, celebrating too?

Nick Davies on page 58 of his wonderful book – “Cuckoo – Cheating by Nature”, a review of his lifetime’s study of these iconic and rapidly declining birds, gives an insight into how many folklore customs came to be associated with hearing a cuckoo’s call.

“Hearing it before breakfast was taken as being unlucky in some parts of the country” ( Oh dear… since I’d just started to go down with the classic 5 symptoms of Omicron).

But then at least I didn’t hear the first cuckoo from my bedroom “a sign of impending illness or death”.

“Hearing a cuckoo while out walking would bring good fortune”, and “a child lucky enough to be born on the day that the first cuckoo was heard would be lucky all its life”.

“The number of calls heard was also said to predict how long you had to live”  (Unlikely!),

or “your number of children” (a great relief that I only heard this 50 call sequence now, in OAP territory, though I suppose this highlights how unusual it is to hear so many in a near continuum).

You can listen to Nick Davies giving a lecture about his research, below, to The Royal Society, shortly after his book was published.

I’ll also mention something I picked up very recently from Charles Moseley’s wonderful new book “To everything a Season – the view from the fen” which his publisher describes as:

“To Everything a Season is a beautifully crafted personal and reflective account of many years of the changing seasons, from autumn to autumn, in and around a village on the edge of the Cambridge Fenland. It is an uplifting reflection about change: what was, what is, what will be.

It is about the miracle of the rich gift of life. It is also about death, loss, and the rebirth of the old into something rich and strange.

But it is also a book suffused with a gentle humour, with a deep love and sympathy for our fellow creatures. Charles Moseley tackles what we have done to the world of which we are not owners or masters but stewards, not only for our children but for the whole web of life on which everything depends.”

And the Cuckoo nugget from Moseley’s book? That the tone of the cuckoo’s song drops slightly as it heads into June. I’d never heard that before, although it gets a reference in this song by Cosmo Sheldrake (the brother of Merlin, of “Entangled Life” and fungi fame):

Not to be outshone, Cery Matthews has recorded this gorgeous ancient Welsh folk song, “Y Gwcw Fach” about a little Gwcw:

And finally, this version of an ancient English Cuckoo song, recorded here by Catia Carlon and Aldo Bova. Just forget the incorrect gender used – only the male cuckoo sings the classic song.

Apart from many more dramatic changes the Queen will have witnessed over the 70 years of her reign, the loss of the cuckoo’s song from many parts of the country will, I’m sure, not have passed her by.

Let’s hope it’s not too late to ensure that these iconic birds don’t live on only in songs and sound recordings.


8 thoughts on “A Platinum Cuckoo Serenade for the Queen

  1. Very interesting and an enjoyable read as usual. Hope you had a jolly Jubilee weekend…we did!

  2. Lovely to hear the cuckoo and to join in with your jubilee celebration. I hope your first symptoms didn’t develop into anything serious!

  3. I don’t think it is dying out in our area of France. I find as the year advances that my reflections on the cuckoo and its monotonous song become less and less generous. Amelia

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