It’s been a bad week for Boris Johnson; brought to his knees by a “cuckoo nest plot” reports The Telegraph. The Cuckoo, however, has its own problems as its population is in freefall: “since the early 1980s Cuckoo numbers have dropped by 65%,” says the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and “the reason for this decline is not known” – which is why it has Red List status.
Like Boris Johnson, the Cuckoo’s demise may be down to climate change: “climate-induced shifts in the timing of breeding of its hosts could have reduced the number of nests that are available for cuckoos to parasitize, resulting in Cuckoo declines.” (BTO). The reduced availability of prey (mainly hairy caterpillars) during the breeding season is also thought to be affecting birds’ breeding and migration.
The duplicitous nature of the Cuckoo wasn’t lost on Maxwell Knight – he identified with its clandestine, behind-the-scenes life and when the moment presented itself to hand-rear one he took it and wrote A Cuckoo in the House (1955) to share his adventure.
Of course, like all Cuckoo stories – including Boris Johnson’s – it ends with “the defection of Knight’s avian agent,” writes Helen Macdonald in her aptly named article Nest of Spies – the “avian agent” being Goo – his pet Cuckoo who – after accepting Knight’s hospitality and kindness – left for Africa. He said of the bird that it was “the most fascinating bird pet” he had ever owned.