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13 Apr 2022

Cuckoos in Glen Rosa

Written by Kate Sampson, Head Ranger
A cuckoo perches on a moss- and lichen-covered branch. It has a grey and white stripe pattern across its chest, and its long grey tail hangs down behind the branch.
A cuckoo at perch
Arran is a special place to live and work, often referred to as ‘Scotland in miniature’. Where else can you look out to sea and spot dolphins, porpoises and possibly even basking sharks, then turn around to face the moorland and mountains to glimpse hen harriers and golden eagles!

If you visit the island in early summer, you might just hear the unmistakable call of the cuckoo too. The birds start arriving from Africa in mid-April, and by the first week of June their activity is reaching its climax. The dramatic glaciated valley of Glen Rosa, near Goat Fell, resounds with the ‘cuckoo’ of the males and the odd burbling sound of the females, as they busily watch for any opportunity to lay their eggs in the nests of their host species – in this case, meadow pipits.

A meadow pipit sits on a wire fence in a field, beside a much larger cuckoo which is turned with its beak open at the pipit.
A meadow pipit (left) and a cuckoo (right)

Apart from their distinctive call, cuckoos can be identified by their drooping wings and long tail – and by the swarm of aggravated meadow pipits constantly mobbing them.

By mid-June, the frenetic activity comes to an end. The meadow pipits have started to hatch out their chicks and, with egg-laying ceasing, the adult cuckoos fly back to Africa.

It’s not until towards the end of July that the youngsters will have fledged. They call out to their adoptive parents, demanding food; the meadow pipits, dwarfed by the young cuckoos, spend their time frantically feeding their very large ‘offspring’.

A woman stands by a path at the entrance to a glen, surrounded by long dry grass. Behind her rise pointed mountains, with cloud hovering over the summits.
Head ranger Kate Sampson at Glen Rosa

Amazingly, these young cuckoos will migrate to Africa by pure instinct, returning next spring right back to Glen Rosa – with any luck, to provide a welcome cacophony of sound to accompany our tea breaks.

Glen Rosa is a spectacular example of a landscape shaped by glaciers. Glen Rosa is part of the Goatfell property, which includes 2,400ha of mountain environment and moorland as well as the peak of Goat Fell.

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