Cuckoo: the winged clock of spring

The cuckoo shouted. Is spring here?

The cuckoo is in Greek tradition closely related to spring, just like the swallow.
Both migratory birds leave Greece when the weather cools down and return back in spring. So, their appearance marks the passage into a new era and identifies the regeneration of nature.


From there, the proverbial phrase “one cuckoo does not bring the spring” was born, which means that just the call of a cuckoo does not mean that spring has arrived, so the voice or opinion of only one man is not enough to achieve a great change.
In Greek mythology, the cuckoo is the bird whose form Zeus took to conquer Hera.

Cuckoo: the little, brilliant, winged trickster of spring

When these birds return at the beginning of spring, they have already entered the period they give birth to small ones. As birds are lonely, searching for a loving companion is manifested by their call, a more sparse or dense “cuckoo, cuckoo” which we hear in spring. After mating, we cease to hear them as they return to their lonely life.

The strange thing about the cuckoo is that unlike most birds or other animals it is not protective at all of its young. When the time arrives, the female enters a foreign nest which it has watched from before. In just a few seconds she leaves an egg there, throwing out one of the ones which are already in the nest. It is characteristic that nature has endowed these small winged tricksters with a lot of wisdom since they always know how to choose nests of birds whose eggs resemble theirs.
The second step is when the little bird hatches. Then, as soon as it has the required power, it pushes and throws the other eggs or the other birds out of the nest, knowing that it needs more food than the rest and cannot share the food with anyone else.

Cuckoos in folk tradition and Greek language

Their paradoxical manner of behaviour, their solitary life and their specific love call was combined from very early with predictions or even expressions.
For example, they say that if the cuckoo is heard early (before March 25, which is also the Greek national day), then the weather would be good. That is why the farmers never left for the mountains before the cuckoo’s voice was heard.

                                                      Cuckoo: “Those who are not strong, must be smart”

Even when we speak we find many expressions that are mainly related to their loneliness or the coming of spring.
So the one who is alone is often called “cuckoo” and we will hear someone say “he remained alone like the cuckoo” or “a lonely cuckoo“.
For a social event which very few people attend the expression “three and the cuckoo” is used.

And when the effort of one person is not enough to change a situation or make a change,  then we remember the lone cuckoo again, saying that “a cuckoo does not bring the spring.”This expression is said to be a variation of “a swallow does not bring the spring” and comes from a myth of Aesopos … But the whimsical social behaviour of the cuckoo made him prevail.

According to the legend, a young spender spent recklessly all his property and all he had left was a winter coat.
When one day he saw a swallow flying in the sky, he believed that spring had come and that his coat was now useless. So he sold it as well. But he was fooled. Winter was not over and the cold came back. And then the young man understood that the swallow he had seen was not enough to bring the spring he so wished for.

One phrase that stands out completely in relation to the rest is “the Cuckoo cost us a Nightingale“, which means we paid something unreasonably, well above its value. This expression relates to the cuckoo’s vocal abilities, which is but a monotonous call. So it is clear that any comparison with a nightingale would be unfair and absurd.

Of course, there are many expressions that use birds as a source of inspiration. Immigrant or permanent, domestic or wild, their presence in language is not insignificant at all.
Is there any greater proof of how important their existence is in our lives?


                                          © Lato,
Het Griekse Taal– & CultuurCentrum van Amsterdam