Birds in Watercolour
In April, come he will
In May, he sings all day
In June, he changes his tune
In July he prepares to fly
In August go he must.
Painted in watercolour in 1998 and was commissioned by its owner in London.
1. Though there are 54 species of Old World cuckoos, just two live in Europe: most live in Africa, Asia and Australasia.
2. The name cuckoo is onomatopoeic, which means that it is taken from the birds call (like, for example, curlew and hoopoe).
3. The common cuckoo is the only member of the family that calls cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo… Most of the others have loud voices but totally different calls.
4. The female’s bubbling call is often said to resemble the sound of bath water running out when the plug is pulled.
5. The resident African cuckoo looks virtually identical to our bird, but has more orange-yellow on the beak. It calls pooh-pooh…
6. The cuckoo is one of the most widespread breeding birds in Europe, and is only absent from Iceland. It also breeds throughout Asia east to Japan.
7. The earliest-ever reliable record of a cuckoo in England was one at Farnham in Surrey on 20 February 1953.
8. It is traditional to write to The Times when you hear the first cuckoo of spring.
9. Only the male cuckoo calls cuckoo, and as the spring progresses the double-note tends to change: In June I change my tune.
10. Cuckoo spit has nothing to do with cuckoos, but is produced by insects as a protection from predators.
11. The cuckoo’s favourite diet is hairy caterpillars.
12. The word cuckold indicates a betrayed husband, a reflection of the cuckoo’s mating habits.
13. Each season a female will lay between 12 and 22 eggs, all in different nests.
14. More than 120 species have been parasitised by cuckoos in Europe: in Britain the most favoured species are dunnock, meadow pipit and reed bunting.
15. A female cuckoo will generally lay her eggs in a nest belonging to the same species of bird that reared her.
16. Unlike most birds, female cuckoos lay their eggs in the afternoon rather than the morning.
17. Though cuckoo eggs usually resemble those of their host, around 20% are rejected so never hatch.
18. Young cuckoos do not tolerate other eggs or chicks in their nest.
19. Adult cuckoos move back to Africa as soon as the breeding season is over – as early as the second half of June in southern England.
20. Young cuckoos follow their parents back to Africa several weeks later.
21. The cuckoo spends nine months of the year in tropical Africa, where it has never been heard to sing.
Painted in watercolour in 2003 and and was commissioned by its present owner in West Sussex.
The green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breed in Britain. It has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill. It is green on its upperparts with a paler belly, bright yellow rump and red on the top of its head. The black 'moustache' has a red centre in males. They have an undulating flight and a loud, laughing call.
Green woodpeckers spend most of their time feeding on the ground. Short grass provides good feeding opportunities for them. Like other woodpeckers, these birds breed in holes they peck in dead wood. They can be seen in England, Wales and Scotland, though they're absent from the far north and west and Ireland all year round.
Woodpeckers eat ants, ants, and more ants. They use their strong beak to dig into ant colonies and eat the inhabitants.