Young Cuckoos, Poisonous Moths & Arctic Explorers

July 31, 2016  •  4 Comments

UPDATE 2 AUG - lots of info on how Cuckoos can eat toxic moths on Brian Carruthers excellent video clip of  the Newcastle birds here

For the last week or so, crippling shots of recently fledged Cuckoos at the old Newcastle railway station on The Murrough in Co. Wicklow – notably from Eric Dempsey and Shay Connolly - have been annoy . . . ahem . . . inspiring me to find time to visit the area myself. I finally found time for a quick trip yesterday morning. As with any bird, there’s always the worry that it will be gone when you get there. So, when I arrived, it was good to see a report on Irish Birding that one had already been seen early on – whew! Irish Birding has more excellent shots of these birds from Brian Carruthers and Aidan Gilbert.  

The next question was - were they north or south along the coastal path between the railway line and the beach? Fortunately a quick scan from the level crossing showed a birder south of the old station house and, as I headed that way, I saw it was recently returned Arctic explorer Mark Carmody – and there was a Cuckoo on the fence between him and me as well!


For the next while, it flew back and forth along the railway fence hunting actively - and unbothered by the presence of speeding trains, passing walkers and bird photographers! Unfortunately, I was unable to get a shot with both a Cuckoo and a train in it.





With a bit of care it allowed close approach – close enough to see that it was feasting on  six-spot burnets that it caught easily by dropping into the grassy verges along the path.  This was a bit surprising because these brightly coloured and slow day-flying moths, and their caterpillars, are poisonous due to accumulating cyanide from their food plants. Some quick googling did not lead me to any information about the diet of Cuckoos, other than a  brief unreferenced statement in Wikipedia that they can eat hairy caterpillars that are distasteful to many birds – clearly this extends to poisonous species as well. If you know more about this, I’d be grateful to hear about it.


A moth is about to die!


Burnet a-la cyanide!

008-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney008-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney 009-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney009-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney

Finishing it off! 010-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney010-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney

There's nothing like a bellyful of moths! It needs them for the amazing migration it will shortly begin to Africa, never having seen its parents! 011-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney011-Newcastle-Cuckoo-©-2016-John-Coveney


John Coveney Photography - People Places & Wildlife
Sorry Brian, corrected!
Brian Carruthers(non-registered)
Thanks for the Blog Page Add-on John
Ahem !!!! Only One T in Carruthers please :-)
John Coveney Photography - People Places & Wildlife
Thanks Brian, you got some great shots as well.
Brian Carruthers(non-registered)
Good one John
Mark turned up as John Fields where leaving with smiles on our faces
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