AskDefine | Define cuckoo

Dictionary Definition



1 a man who is a stupid incompetent fool [syn: fathead, goof, goofball, bozo, jackass, goose, twat, zany]
2 any of numerous European and North American birds having pointed wings and a long tail v : repeat monotonously, like a cuckoo repeats his call

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /'kʊkuː/


  1. Crazy; not sane.


  1. Any of various birds, of the family Cuculidae, famous for laying its eggs in the nests of other species; but especially Cuculus canorus that has a characteristic two-note call
  2. The sound of that particular bird.
  3. The bird shaped figure found in Swiss/German clocks (cuckoo clocks) or the clock itself.
  4. Someone found where they shouldn't be (used especially in the phrase 'A cuckoo in the nest'.)
  5. Someone who is crazy.


the bird
the sound
someone crazy


  1. To make the call of a cuckoo
  2. To repeat something incessantly


to make the call of a cuckoo
  • Finnish: kukkua
to repeat something incessantly
  • Finnish: hokea

Extensive Definition

The cuckoos are a family, Cuculidae, of near passerine birds. The order Cuculiformes, in addition to the cuckoos, also includes the turacos (family Musophagidae, sometimes treated as a separate order, Musophagiformes). Some zoologists and ecologists have also included the unique Hoatzin in the Cuculiformes, but its taxonomy remains in dispute.
The cuckoo family, in addition to those species named as such, also includes the roadrunners, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis. The coucals and anis are sometimes separated as distinct families, the Centropodidae and Crotophagidae respectively.


Cuckoos are birds of variable size with slender bodies, long tails and strong legs. The feet are zygodactyl (the two inner toes pointed forward and the two outer backward). Most cuckoos reside in forests, but some prefer more open country. Most are insect eaters, with hairy caterpillars, which are avoided by many birds, being a specialty. Cuckoos range in size from the Little Bronze Cuckoo, at 17 g and 15 cm (6 inches), to the Channel-billed Cuckoo, at 630 g (1.4 lbs) and 63 cm (25 inches).
Cuckoo genera differ in the number of primary wing feathers as below.
  • Phaenicophaeus, Coccyzus, Piaya - 9
  • Cuculus - 9 or 10
  • Pachycoccyx, Clamator levaillantii, Centropus - 10
  • Microdynamis, Eudynamys,Clamator glandarius - 11
  • Some coucals - 12
  • Scythrops novaehollandiae - 13



About 56 of the Old World species and 3 of the New World species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. The best-known example is the European Common Cuckoo. The cuckoo egg hatches earlier than the host's, and the cuckoo chick grows faster; in most cases the chick evicts the eggs or young of the host species. The chick has no time to learn this behavior, so it must be an instinct passed on genetically. The mother still feeds the cuckoo chick as if it were her own, the chick's open mouth serving as a sign stimulus for the host to feed it.
Female parasitic cuckoos specialize and lay eggs that closely resemble the eggs of their chosen host. This also seems to have been aided by natural selection, as some birds are able to distinguish cuckoo eggs from their own, leading to those eggs least like the host's being thrown out of the nest. They will also take a wide range of other insects and animal prey. The lizard-cuckoos of the Caribbean have, in the relative absence of birds of prey, specialised in taking lizards. Larger, ground types such as coucals and roadrunners also feed variously on snakes, lizards, small rodents, and other birds, which they bludgeon with their strong bills.
Several koels, couas and the Channel-billed Cuckoo feed mainly on fruit, but they are not exclusively frugivores. The parasitic koels and Channel-billed Cuckoo in particular consume mainly fruit when raised by fruigivore hosts such as the Figbird and Pied Currawong. Other species will occasionally take fruit as well.


Cuckoos are often highly secretive and in many cases best known for their wide repertoire of calls. Calls are usually relatively simple, resembling whistles, flutes, or hiccups. The cuckoo family gets its English and scientific names from the call of the Common Cuckoo, which is also familiar from cuckoo clocks. Some of the names of other species and genera are also derived from their calls, for example the koels of Asia and Australasia. In most cuckoos the calls are distinctive to particular species, and are useful for identification. Several cryptic species have been identified on the basis of their calls. Although cuckoos are diurnal, many species call at night.



Subfamily Cuculinae

Brood-parasitic cuckoos.

Subfamily Phaenicophaeinae

Malkohas and couas.

Subfamily Coccyzinae

American cuckoos.
  • Genus Coccyzus - includes Saurothera and Hyetornis, and possibly distinct Micrococcyx (13+2 species)
  • Genus Piaya - includes possibly distinct Coccycua (2+1 species)

Subfamily Neomorphinae

Typical ground-cuckoos.

Subfamily Centropodinae


Subfamily Crotophaginae



  • Feduccia, Alan (1996): The Origin and Evolution of Birds. Yale University Press, New Haven. ISBN 0-300-06460-8
  • Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section VII.C. Cuculidae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 110-111. Academic Press, New York.

External links

cuckoo in Arabic: وقواق
cuckoo in Czech: Kukačkovití
cuckoo in German: Kuckuck (Art)
cuckoo in Dimli: Phepug
cuckoo in Spanish: Cuculidae
cuckoo in Esperanto: Kukoledoj
cuckoo in French: Cuculidae
cuckoo in Korean: 뻐꾸기과
cuckoo in Hebrew: קוקייתיים
cuckoo in Hungarian: Kakukkfélék
cuckoo in Italian: Cuculidae
cuckoo in Dutch: Koekoeken
cuckoo in Japanese: カッコウ科 (Sibley)
cuckoo in Norwegian: Gjøkfamilien
cuckoo in Polish: Kukułkowate
cuckoo in Portuguese: Cuculidae
cuckoo in Russian: Кукушковые
cuckoo in Serbian: Кукавица
cuckoo in Finnish: Käet
cuckoo in Telugu: కోకిల
cuckoo in Turkish: Guguk
cuckoo in Ukrainian: Зозуля
cuckoo in Chinese: 杜鹃科

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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