A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Cuckoo Thief!

Wildlife photo of the year

This cuckoo had just stolen a reed warbler’s egg out of her nest when she came face-to-face with Czech photographer and film maker Oldrich Mikulica.

The result was the winning photo in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011. A rare photo, indeed, and the only one of its kind Mikulika said he’s likely ever to take in his life.

“I am absolutely fascinated by these birds,” he said. “For 25 years during the breeding season I have been around the fish ponds near my house to observe reed warblers and cuckoos.”

The cuckoos take one of the eggs out of the warblers’ nest, and replace it with their own egg, hoping that the warblers will raise it as their own. But since the baby cuckoo will be bigger and stronger than the warbler chicks, she usually pushes the baby warblers out of the nest altogether.

“For both parties it is about all or nothing: if the host birds accept the intruder’s egg, they will lose their own brood. On the other hand, if the trickery is discovered, the [cuckoo] will remain without any offspring.”

Each year, the Society of German Nature Photographers hosts the annual European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. This year, almost 14,000 photographs from 39 nations were entered.

The judges agreed that Mikulica’s photo was exceptional.

“It shows an interesting behavior on a high aesthetic level … It is surprising, stimulates interest and tells a story,” they said. “The shallow depth of field guides the view straight to the egg, the central topic in this story.”

It’s also a completely authentic picture – meaning that it couldn’t be set up in an artificial situation – as happens in many wildlife documentary films these days.

“The cuckoo removes an egg of the host birds from their nest to replace it with one of its own eggs, which is nearly identical in appearance. Occasionally, cuckoos would eat the other bird’s egg, but outside this specific situation eggs are not part of the cuckoo’s diet. This means, this situation is not artificially reproducible by depositing eggs and waiting for the cuckoo to arrive at the feeding place. Therefore, this image is an authentic document of a natural behavior.”