Common cuckoo Cuculus canorus, adult male perched on a post, Stow Maries, Essex

Cuckoo migration

Migration can be daunting for young cuckoos as they must find their own way to Africa!

What we know about cuckoo migration

Cuckoos have a crafty breeding strategy. Instead of building their own nest, they use the nests of ‘host’ birds, such as dunnocks and meadow pipits. When a female cuckoo finds a suitable nest, and the hosts aren’t looking, she removes one of their eggs and lays her own egg in its place. 

The young cuckoo hatches after only 12 days and quickly pushes the hosts’ eggs or babies out of the nest. After 19 days it leaves the nest, but the hosts continue to feed it for two more weeks, by which time it has grown much bigger than them. 

Adult cuckoos are among the earliest of our summer visitors to leave. They have no need to help rear their young, so they are free to go. Most leave the UK during June. Young cuckoos leave later, when they are fully fledged. They never see their parents.

The British Trust for Ornithology has been tracking cuckoo migration since 2011. These new technological advances show that cuckoos spend the winter months in Central Africa. They take a different migratory route in autumn to their spring journey and places to stop off to rest and feed - in both Europe and Africa - are important parts of the cuckoo’s migratory journey.

Meet our wonderful wanderers

A swift in flight against a blue sky

Birds are migrating thousands of miles right now to raise their families in the UK. Click here to find out more about their amazing journeys, and what you can do to help them.