Gateway to the Classics: Wild Life in Woods and Fields by Arabella B. Buckley
Wild Life in Woods and Fields by  Arabella B. Buckley

The Greedy Stranger

I T was the middle of April this year when we first heard the cuckoo. We love to hear it, for it tells us that spring has come. This year we were very lucky. We saw a young cuckoo grow up in his nest.

This was how it happened.

We had heard the cuckoo for some time, cuck-oo, cuck-oo, and it seemed as if many cuckoos were singing. One day we heard such a funny noise, like kik-kik-kik. "Ah!" said Peggy, "father says that is the cry of the mother cuckoo which lays the eggs. That is why there are so many cuckoos about. They are singing to her."

"Well then," said Peter, "if she stops here, perhaps we may find one of her eggs. I do so want to see a young cuckoo."

About a week after this Peter found a titlark's nest. It was in a tuft of grass, on the bank near the wood. Two small dull-grey eggs, spotted with brown, were lying in the nest. The next day, as we went to school, there were three eggs. The next morning there were four. But as we came back from school that afternoon there were five eggs.

"The titlark cannot have laid two eggs in one day," said Peter. "I wonder if the cuckoo has brought one of her eggs here."

For we know that the cuckoo lays her eggs on the ground, and brings it in her wide beak to the nest of some other bird. We looked every day for a fortnight. The little titlark was so used to our coming, she did not even fly off the nest. She was a pretty little bird, with brown spotted wings and a yellow throat and chin.

At the end of a fortnight two little titlarks came out of their shells, and the next day two more. They opened their beaks for food, and the father titlark flew out to the field, and brought flies and caterpillars to feed them. But the mother still sat on the fifth egg.

Two day later the fifth bird came out. It had a curved beak, and bent toes with short, sharp claws. Its toes were two in front and two at the back. Titlarks have straight beaks and flat toes, three in front and one at the back.

So we knew our young cuckoo by his beak and toes.

We came next day to look. The little titlarks had quills on their wings where the feathers were growing, and their eyes were open. The cuckoo was naked and blind. But he had pushed two of the titlarks out of the nest, and they lay on the bank quite dead.

The cuckoo had grown bigger even in one day, and the old titlarks kept feeding him with insects as he sat with his beak wide open. While we were looking at him the cuckoo pushed about in the nest and shoved another little titlark over the edge, on to the bank. We put it back in the nest and then we had to go on to school. When we came back the cuckoo sat in the nest alone. All the four little titlarks were dead on the bank. He had pushed them all out.

The old birds did not seem to see their dead children. They were so busy feeding the big hungry stranger. They fed him for five or six weeks, even after he could come out of the nest.

It was so funny to see! The cuckoo was larger than a thrush and the titlarks not bigger than a sparrow. Yet the big bird sat on a branch with his beak open, and let these little birds carry all his food.

At last he flew away. We heard a cuckoo singing in August, when we knew the old birds were all gone. We wondered if it was our young "greedy stranger."


A cuckoo singing.

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