This is a question I find myself asking lots of visitors to our Aire Valley sites at this time of year. Sadly, cuckoo numbers have declined by 40% since the early 1980’s - so much so, that many of our visitors have yet to experience the enigmatic call that for so many generations has heralded the start of spring.

Mercifully here in Yorkshire there are still excellent places to hear and, on occasion - for they are notoriously shy birds – to see cuckoos. My suggestion for anyone keen to experience a cuckoo call for themselves would be to head to RSPB Fairburn Ings, and talk a stroll along the Roy Taylor trail. Our team of staff and volunteers will be happy to give you some top tips to help you try and track down this elusive harbinger of spring.

An early spring view from the Roy Taylor trail - photo by Jen Sharp

Cuckoos don’t hang around the area for long though - in fact, they are amongst the first of the summer migrants to leave our shores, often as early as mid-June. The key to their early departure lies in the fact that they are famously lacking as parents! They abdicate all duties to poor unsuspecting foster parents, laying their eggs in the nest of another bird - often a dunnock, robin, or a reed or willow warbler. The young cuckoo hatches very quickly, in only around 12 days, which puts it in a commanding position to then take over the nest and force out the chicks of the other birds. The parent cuckoos are free to leave the country, knowing that the next generation are being well cared for by their - blissfully unaware - foster parent.

A cuckoo at RSPB Fairburn Ings, April 2021 - photo by Alan Coe

Whatever your thoughts on the questionable parenting techniques of these birds, don’t miss your chance to find a cuckoo in Yorkshire yourself this year, and experience this very special sign of spring. We look forward to welcoming you to the Aire Valley soon.

- Jan Elsworth, Aire Valley Visitor Operations Manager