The First Cuckoo

One of the harbingers of spring has arrived. The cuckoo has already been heard – if not seen – in this corner of southwest France. This year it has arrived early.

Knowing the Statistics Freak’s penchant for recording anything and everything, a friend phoned yesterday (Friday 18th March) especially to tell us that he had heard a cuckoo in the distance. These friends live about 15km south of us, so it’s very likely that the cuckoo arrives there first.

Our friend said it was very far away: that’s if it was a real cuckoo, of course, and not someone pretending to be one. I am not a bad cuckoo mimic myself (a really useful skill to have, I’m sure you’ll agree) and can get them to fly overhead in search of the intruder on their territory. I’m an even better owl mimic and have almost caused one to have a nervous breakdown in its attempt to seek out the interloper. But that story is for another day.

The Statistics Freak has been recording the date of the cuckoo’s arrival since 2000. When I say the cuckoo’s arrival, I mean the first day we heard it. If the weather is bad, there is a chance we won’t hear its first proclamation if we don’t go outside. The cuckoo is a bird of very regular habits. We can normally count on its arrival on 29th March +/- 3 days, although this varies.

Here are the arrival dates for the previous 5 years:

2006 – 02-Apr
2007 – 09-Apr
2008 – 29-Mar
2009 – 04-Apr
2010 – 29-Mar 

There doesn’t appear to be a direct correlation with the subsequent weather, i.e. it doesn’t seem to know something we don’t. In 2007, the cuckoo arrived late and we had a rotten summer. But in 2009, it also arrived late and we had a hot summer. Last year, it arrived bang on schedule but the summer weather didn’t arrive until the second half of June.

The French have several dictons (sayings) associated with the cuckoo. For example:

A la Saint-Benoît (21st March), le coucou chante dans les bons endroits, ou bien il est mort de froid (On St Benedict’s day, either the cuckoo sings in the right places, or he’s died of cold).

There is another one, which I read several years ago but am now unable to find and goes something like:

Autant de jours avant avril le coucou arrive, autant de jours après il s’en repentira (loosely translated: the earlier the cuckoo arrives, the longer it will regret it).

As well as the cuckoo, the signs of spring are appearing everywhere. The trees are starting to get that fuzzy look that presages the first leaves. The grass is studded with cowslips and violets. The birds are chasing each other frenetically and starting to look for nesting sites. The rosemary is flowering and the blossom is already well-advanced in places.

I took the following shot yesterday outside the Sous-Préfecture in Villefranche-de-Rouergue. The building itself is one of those unlovely edifices that local authorities the world over choose for their functional hideousness. However, they had the good sense to disguise this one with a pleasant garden and flowering cherry trees.

Tomorrow is officially the first day of spring but it’s good to feel that in many ways it has already arrived.

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved


  1. Well I was amazed to be woken up by a cuckoo singing at four thirty in the morning. I simply had to google it and so stumbled upon all of this talk of spring. It seems that they do sing at night when it takes their fancy and that even here as far north as Brittany.


    • I’ve also heard cuckoos singing at night. Normally, it’s either when there is a full moon, which presumably tricks them into thinking it’s day, or near dawn, just as first light is showing.
      I’d be interested to know when cuckoos actually arrive in Brittany. According to my Swedish husband, they don’t arrive in the south of Sweden until May.


  2. Fancy being able to give an owl a nervous breakdown – that’s impressive! Spring is going to be pretty far advanced by the time we get back to Lectoure in late April – and the weeds in our garden will be monumental.


    • I felt sorry for the poor owl, since it flew back and forth hooting forlornly for an hour or so. I suppose one shouldn’t interfere with nature like that. Yes, by late April, I’m afraid you’ll have some work on your hands. It’s such a lovely time of year, though, especially if the sun shines.


  3. We’ve just seen more cranes migrating north this evening – another sign that spring is on its way. I must start keeping a note of when we hear our first cuckoo too, and get our swallows back. I quite enjoy statistics too!
    Beautiful photos – you’re a good bit ahead of us. Not much blossom out yet, but my forthysia is giving a nice show at the moment.


    • It’s so nice that the signs of spring are multiplying, isn’t it, and that the evenings are drawing out again? It’s only another week and the clocks go forward. Then you really feel it’s going in the right direction.


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