Duelling Cuckoos.

10th June 2016
Situated near to where I live there is an upland area that is a reliable site for one or two Cuckoos every spring. This year again there has been a female bird there but she was quiet for a week until we saw a male bird there yesterday. While we were watching this male bird another male appeared and then all hell broke loose. Cuckoos are quite territorial and there ensued a monumental ‘dog - fight’ between them. When Cuckoos are agitated they can perform some incredible aerial acrobatics and they really can shift. The two of them were ripping through the trees at incredible speed with only a couple of feet between them. Every so often they would perch in a tree to catch their breath.

This didn’t last long because as soon as they recovered one bird would swoop in and knock the other of its perch and battle would recommence. This encounter lasted for about ten minutes before one of the birds had had enough and left, we were left stunned by it all but it was great to see nature at its best for a short while.
They flew at such speed that it was almost impossible to get a shot of them because they would suddenly appear through the trees and before you could react they were gone again. You can’t do anything about it when this happens because it is all over in a second. However, the best way I find to lock onto birds flying fast and low is to, (if you can see them coming), first focus on them manually using the lens focus ring and then you will be in the right area. Hopefully the lens autofocus system will then take over and track them. Use the shutter speed priority mode on your camera and select a speed of at least 1000/sec, higher speeds may be necessary. These two Cuckoos were shot at 1250/sec at f4.

The female bird that was present was the reason for all the males’ aerobatics. However, she just looked on and left them to it and after a while she departed at a more leisurely pace which made it easier for me to photograph her.

This wasn’t much of a photo session but the spectacle was really enthralling!