Posted by: photographytuition | May 23, 2014

How to photograph cuckoos

First find your cuckoo!

In mid Wales, where I live there are loads of them if you look in the right places like wild, open, hilly areas with scattered small trees.

People don’t believe me when I say, “If you can hear a cuckoo then you can see a cuckoo.”

OK, sometimes, like in densely wooded areas it’s difficult to see them but in more open, hilly areas it’s surprisingly easy. I’ve heard about 20 this year and seen 15.


Only the males make the ‘cuckoo’ sound, the females occasionally make a wonderful burbling noise.

Cuckoos usually perch in a prominent  position at the top of small trees – so if they’re calling they’re pretty easy to see – particularly if they are being mobbed by little birds who recognise them as the enemy.


When they take off they fly low to the ground and usually call immediately on landing on the next perch.


The male watches over the female when she is laying her eggs. He usually calls incessantly at this time warding off other males. When she’s finished laying she shoots off, quickly followed by the male. Males and females are identical.





I photograph cuckoos by using field craft. I watch them, learn their behaviour and follow them slowly and carefully. Often I might have to wait a while before I see or hear them but having learnt where their ‘base camp’ is it’s not so difficult. One site I visit regularly I’ve never failed to see them. Basically they have their own areas which they stick to so if you hear a cuckoo you can be pretty sure he, and she will be around that area practically every day.

Cuckoos are active anytime of the day but I think you are more likely to see them in the morning.

Camera equipment used: Nikon D7000 with Nikon 300mm f4 lens but any 70-300mm lens would do fine.

I took all the photos on aperture priority, setting it to f5.6. This gives good quality – wide open at f4 isn’t so great, quality wise, and depth of field is very limited. Obviously focusing is difficult on a fast moving bird – I use the AF-C  (continuous focusing) setting but with lots of failures! AF-C  is not great when the bird lands – I have to switch over to manual focusing or AF-S.

I set the ISO to 400 or 800 and let the camera select the shutter speed. All the shots above were taken at shutter speeds between 1/1500sec and 1/4000sec. Sunny days are essential!

It would be possible to use a longer lens to photograph the cuckoos when they are stationary but very, very difficult to capture them in flight.

If you would like to ask me anything or view my websites or associated websites:

Will Lewis:



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