The cuckoo bird… a cruel but efficient little bastard

It seems that your average cuckoo bird is not what you would label a good parent. It relies on other birds to do the dirty work for her. How so?

Well, it seems that the mother cuckoo bird scouts out the surrounding area for nests belonging to some of its fellow birds. Favorites include the pipit, warbler, and robin. This is mainly because the eggs of that species, while much larger, are very similar in color to that of our friend, the cuckoo. The cuckoo, upon seeing one of these nests will wait for the owner to vacate it for a meal. Seizing this opportunity, the cuckoo will then lay one of her eggs in the nest along side those of the other species and off she goes. Since cuckoo’s can lay up to 25 eggs during their breeding season, competition for nesting places is quite fierce.

Here comes the strange part. About 12 days later, the cuckoo’s egg will hatch and the surrogate mother has no idea that it doesn’t belong to her. She will feed it as one of her own. As the cuckoo chick grows, it will either push the other chicks and/or unhatched eggs out of the nest until it is the last one remaining. This ensures that the chick will be the recipient of all of the food that the “surrogate” mother brings back. This behavior goes on even though the cuckoo might grow much larger than the original parenting birds. It will also use its call to mimic other types of birds, enticing them into providing the chick with a free meal. Once the cuckoo reaches an age when in can fly, its outta there with not so much as a thank you.

Now, as for the cuckoo clock……

In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, the Cuckoo is a villain that appears in the A Game of You story arc. The exact nature of the Cuckoo is not explained, but it seems to be a psychic entity that feeds on other's mental energy. It takes the name of Cuckoo because, much like a Cuckoo bird, it can make other people want to care for it and do what it says. The genesis of the Cuckoo is not explained directly, either.

In the story, Barbie, a once normal yuppie woman who has moved to New York City. She has fallen out of touch with a rich dream life she had as a younger woman, a falling out that is revealed to be caused by the Cuckoo hijacking her dream realm. The characters in the dream realm who are still loyal to her (calling her "Princess Barbie") summon her back so she can resist the Cuckoo. She does so for a long time, but in the end is tricked by the Cuckoo's powers. The Cuckoo appears to her as a younger version of herself, and tells her that she (The Cuckoo) was born out of Barbie's young, bored dreams of having a more interesting life. The Cuckoo uses her powers to make Barbie sacrifice her life so that the Cuckoo can escape the small dream dimension. The Cuckoo even manages to enchant the Witch Thessaly, who was pursuing her with a vengeance. In the end, however, she can not trick Morpheus, the King of Dreams. Morpheus does allow the Cuckoo to go free when Barbie chooses to be returned home safely, rather then to get revenge on the Cuckoo. The last scene of the story arc has the little girl turning into a bird and then flying off, apparently to infect other realms with her psychic vampirism.

The storyline of A Game of You is complex and involuted, and not tightly connected to the overall arc of the Sandman. The Cuckoo is not even, in some ways a traditional villain, being portrayed as an entity that exists by animal instinct, even if it has human intelligence. Although the Cuckoo's machinations put the story into motion, they are not actually the focus of the story, with the story instead being on more subtle ideas of identity and relationship. As Neil Gaiman himself has said, the story is meant to be a "female" story, and the conclusion of the story is in self-discovery, rather than in cataclasmatic battle with a villian. It could be stated that as the characters in the story discover their identities, they are in fact, defeating the Cuckoo, who seems to be a symbol of lost identity. Be that as it may, I would still like to know where the Cuckoo came from, and what happened to it after it flies away to other realms.

Cuck"oo (k??k"??), n. [OE. coccou, cukkow, F. coucou, prob. of imitative origin; cf. L. cuculus, Gr. , Skr. kkia, G. kuckuk, D. koekoek.] Zool.

A bird belonging to Cuculus, Coccyzus, and several allied genera, of many species.

⇒ The European cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) builds no nest of its own, but lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, to be hatched by them. The American yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus Americanus) and the black-billed cuckoo (C. erythrophthalmus) build their own nests.

Cuckoo bee Zool., a bee, parasitic in the larval stage in the nests of other bees, feeding either upon their food or larvae. They belong to the genera Nomada, Melecta, Epeolus, and others. -- Cuckoo clock, a clock so constructed that at the time for striking it gives forth sounds resembling the cry of the cuckoo. -- Cuckoo dove Zool., a long-tailed pigeon of the genus Macropygia. Many species inhabit the East Indies. -- Cuckoo fish Zool., the European red gurnard (Trigla cuculus). The name probably alludes to the sound that it utters. -- Cuckoo falcon Zool., any falcon of the genus Baza. The genus inhabits Africa and the East Indies. -- Cuckoo maid Zool., the wryneck; -- called also cuckoo mate. -- Cuckoo ray Zool., a British ray (Raia miraletus). -- Cuckoo spit, ∨ Cuckoo spittle. (a) A frothy secretion found upon plants, exuded by the larvae of certain insects, for concealment; -- called also toad spittle and frog spit. (b) Zool. A small hemipterous insect, the larva of which, living on grass and the leaves of plants, exudes this secretion. The insects belong to Aphrophora, Helochara, and allied genera. -- Ground cuckoo, the chaparral cock.

 

© Webster 1913.

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