Friday mystery object #307 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen from the Irish Room of the Dead Zoo to try your hand at identifying:


Now it’s not a particularly difficult species to identify for a keen birder, so I asked for cryptic clues to the identity, and I was not disappointed. Some suggestions were so cryptic I still haven’t managed to work them out!

First in was Jennifer Mccaire who quoted a brief line of poetry:

“…Thou hast no sorrow in thy song, No winter in thy year.”

This is a section of a poem published in 1770 by John Logan – the title being “Ode to the Cuckoo“. Now, it seems likely that Scottish born Logan wrote this about the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Linnaeus, 1758 that breeds in Europe and which looks like this:

Common Cuckoo. Image by Chris Romeiks, 2011

Common Cuckoo. Image by Chris Romeiks, 2011

Clearly it’s a different bird (one which mimics the appearance of a female Sparrowhawk) and it’s not quite the same as the mystery object – although there are similarities. However, we must keep in mind that Jennifer is of the North American persuasion, so her thoughts on Cuckoos will probably veer towards the Black-billed Cuckoo or Yellow-billed Cuckoo (or maybe the Mangrove Cuckoo, but that’s not as widespread as the other two).

If you don’t know the difference between these two North American Cuckoos, here’s a handy illustration to help differentiate:

Black-billed Cuckoo (left), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (right). Watercolour by Louis Agassiz Fuertes between 1910 and 1914.

Black-billed Cuckoo (left), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (right). Watercolour by Louis Agassiz Fuertes between 1910 and 1914.

The patch of yellow on the bill is a dead give-away. The mystery object is the Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus (Linnaeus, 1758). As the scientific name suggests, this is a species from America, which raises a question about why it’s in the Irish Room of the National Museum of Ireland, which is dedicated to specimens collected in Ireland or species found in Ireland.

As it turns out, some species – especially ones that can fly or swim, find themselves hundreds of miles from where they intended to be. In this case, the Cuckoo is a vagrant – possibly blown off-course during its long migration. This sort of thing is quite common and in some cases it can lead to species becoming established in new places – a good example would be Greater-spotted Woodpeckers, which may be starting to establish themselves in Ireland after being absent for tens of thousands of years.

5 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #307 answer

  1. In parts of the southern US they call the yellow-billed cuckoo a “rain crow”, as it’s seen as a harbinger of wet weather. This species doesn’t make a “cook-coo” sound, however.

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