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The Cuckoo – the uninvited guest

£24.99 £19.99

Product Description

We all know Cuckoos as the harbingers of spring – whose haunting calls proclaim the birds own name across fields and reedbeds. A bird much more often heard than actually seen, and often mistaken for a hawk or falcon when briefly glimpsed in flight. Cuckoos are also well known, perhaps even infamous, for their habit of laying their own eggs into the nests of much smaller species, such as reed warblers, who are then doomed to raise the enormous cuckoo chick rather than their own young, and whose eggs are ruthlessly thrown from the nest by the cuckoo hatchling.

But how does this complex behaviour act out in nature, and how did it evolve? What are the cuckoo’s special tricks and what counter-measures have the host birds developed to resist the depredations of cuckoos? In this book the authors delve into the stories behind what we see, and into the complex and ever evolving evolutionary arms race by which the nest parasite and its hosts constantly try to leapfrog each other into prime position. The natural history of the cuckoo-host struggle is illuminated with detailed explanations of the results of behavioural and ecological research to provide a comprehensive, but highly readable, account in which an insight into one puzzle constantly reveals a new question begging an answer.

The whole story is brought vividly to life through the astonishing photographs of Oldřich Mikulica, who has watched cuckoos and their various hosts from hides for almost four decades. The result is a unique and beautiful book which both informs and delights.

A wonderful book! Never before have the lives of cuckoos been revealed in such extraordinary, aesthetic, intimate detail.’ Tim Birkhead, scientist and author of The Most Perfect Thing: the Inside (and Outside) of a Bird’s egg.

‘The most fascinating illustration of cuckoo behaviour and ecology I have ever appreciated.’ Franz Bairlein, Director, Institute of Avian Research, Germany. President, International Ornithologists’ Union.

Authors: Oldřich Mikulica, Tomáš Grim, Karl Schulze-Hagen and Bård Gunnar Stokke
Foreword by Nick Davies author of Cuckoo, cheating by nature
Publication date: 2nd January 2017
ISBN 9780995567306
Hardback
Extent: 160pp
Size: H 240mm x W 240mm

Additional Information

Weight .850 kg
Dimensions 24 x 3 x 24 cm

Reviews

  1. Tim Birkhead, BBC Wildlife

    Review  –:

    It isn’t often, even in these days of increasingly breathtaking photography, that a bird book comes along and leaves you speechless with admiration. For its outstanding images, text and overall design, this ‘uninvited guest’ is more than welcome. The photos, all taken by Oldrich Mikulica over several years, are of superb artistry and quality, and provide us with an intimate series of glimpses into the endlessly fascinating world of the common cuckoo. Researchers have discovered a great deal about the species’ biology, but photographers, thanks to their unrivalled patience, often see and capture things overlooked or rarely seen by others. The images here – of the birds themselves, and their eggs, chicks and food – are presented in a wonderfully effective and comprehensive way. This isn’t simply a picture book, however – the text has an accessible, engaging style, and is up to date, scholarly and eminently readable. My bird book of the year!
    Tim Birkhead, BBC Wildlife

  2. Justin Walker, BTO

    Review  –:

    The familiar call of the male Cuckoo echoing across reed beds and moorland is widely recognised throughout Europe as a harbinger of spring; yet few have witnessed the intimate details of the life of this most elusive bird except those who dedicate their lives to observing and studying the behaviour of one of nature’s most devious cheats. The stunning photography of Oldřich Mikulica charting the lifecycle of the Cuckoo from furtive egg laying to foster parents feeding a monstrous chick is incredible testimony to a man who has devoted almost four decades to studying these fascinating brood parasites. Few will have had the opportunity and privilege to capture beautifully the moment that a female Cuckoo is attacked by a Great Reed Warbler pair; the leviathan challenge of ejecting host eggs and chicks facing every Cuckoo hatchling; or the moment a young Cuckoo launches itself from the nest box in which it was lovingly reared by its Common Redstart hosts. One feels virtually transported to the watery habitat in which most of the scenes were played out and insightfully captured by the photographer’s experience, patience and skilfully positioned lens.
    Mikulica’s captivating imagery however, only tells one half of the story in this book with the remainder being ably written by the small team of experienced Cuckoo researchers Tomáš Grim, Karl Schulze-Hagen and Bård Gunnar Stoke. Their highly informative narrative perfectly accompanies the photographic story; documenting all aspects of Cuckoo biology and ecology, as well as the evolutionary arms race being continually run by Cuckoos and their range of host species. There are chapters covering nest parasitism; egg mimicry; chick and fledgling behaviour, as well as theories and research into the complex co-evolution of brood parasitism. The most sobering, sadly covers the worrying steep decline of the species in Europe.
    With a forward by Nick Davies, behavioural ecologist and author of ‘Cuckoo – Cheating by Nature’, I cannot recommend this most recent addition to the body of literature exposing the secrets of the Cuckoo’s deception highly enough. But it is surely the breathtaking camera work, sensitively illustrating every facet of the life of this fascinating species that will keep the reader coming back to this book.
    Justin Walker, BTO

  3. Ian Carter, British Birds

    Review  –:

    Advances in digital photography and printing technology are continually raising the bar when it comes to wildlife books based on photographs. This new volume is an excellent example, presenting a simply stunning collection of images of the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and its many hosts. The technology may be improving but there are still no shortcuts when it comes to capturing fleeting moments of rarely seen behaviour of this highly secretive bird. The majority of the photographs were taken at a single site (the Lužice fishponds in the Czech Republic) by Oldřich Mikulica, and they represent the result of a lifetime’s knowledge and passion for this species. He is justifiably credited as the lead author. Pictures from a few other areas are included to ensure coverage of as wide a range of Cuckoo hosts as possible.
    The images are paired with a lively, engaging and informative text, comprising 15 short chapters and many expanded photograph captions. The style is informal and relaxed but retains an authoritative feel, reflecting the experience and knowledge of the authors. There are very few clues that English is not their first language. The main focus of the book is on breeding behaviour, and the complex evolutionary arms race that continues to play out between this parasite and its many hosts. All aspects are well covered, including first arrival on the breeding grounds, host selection, searching for nests, egg-laying and the rearing of the over- Reviews sized young by its foster parents. There is a fascinating chapter covering the innovative research methods developed to learn more about this bird. Another looks at the different strategies employed by other species of brood parasite; interesting variations on a theme to compare with the main subject. (If you thought Common Cuckoos were capable of treating their step-siblings badly, then spare a thought for the hapless chicks hatching next to a Greater Honeyguide Indicator indicator.) The book ends on a rather poignant note when considering recent declines of the Cuckoo in parts of Europe, something that readers in most parts of the UK will be all too well aware of.
    Although the photograph captions are generally excellent, there were times when I felt that a little more detail would have been useful. There are, for example, many pictures showing food items being delivered to young Cuckoos but despite the detail revealed in the images we are not told what the species are, or given no more than ‘dragonfly’ or ‘hairy caterpillar’. Readers with entomological pretensions will no doubt have fun trying to work out as many as possible. I would also have liked more details of location for those images away from the main site at Lužice. And while I sympathise with the decision not to clutter the text with references, it would have been useful to have a more comprehensive list of further reading at the end of the book. Even some of the key studies mentioned in the text are not included. Yet it seems churlish to find fault with such an impressive piece of work. This book is a real delight: it sets a new standard for books of its type and it is hard to imagine any readers of BB not enjoying it as well as learning a great deal from it.
    Ian Carter British Birds

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