The Clock Is Ticking Germany's Cuckoos Are Stuggling to Survive

The country that made the cuckoo bird famous with its clocks is now worried the bird might follow the tragic path of the dodo -- into extinction. Nature and clock preservationists are teaming up and fighting back to save the species.

By Josh Ward

The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is under threat in Germany.

The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is under threat in Germany.

Explaining the existence of cuckoo clocks is already difficult enough. But what if there were no longer any cuckoo birds left in the country that invented the cuckoo clock?

To make sure that this never happens -- and that the common cuckoo doen't get less common -- a German environmental protection agency has joined forces with the German Clock Museum by organizing a "Cuckoo and the Cuckoo Clock" exhibition.

"If the birds die out, they'll become just part of folktales or fairy tales," Eva Renz, the museum's media representative, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It would be something like the dragon stories once told."

The exhibition, which opened Thursday, aims to help NABU, a German nature preservation organization, raise awareness and educate people about the bird and its dwindling population.

Cuckoo birds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and trick them into taking care of them. Shrinking natural habitats have led to a reduction in the number of surrogate nests, which in turn has led to fewer cuckoos, according to NABU.

NABU estimates that the number of breeding pairs of cuckoos has fallen by 20 percent to 30 percent over the last 10 years alone and that only between 51,000 and 97,000 pairs remain in Germany. To raise awareness of the issue, the organization has chosen the cuckoo as its "2008 Bird of the Year."

The German Clock Museum is located in Furtwangen, a town just west of Freiburg im Breisgau and deep in the Black Forest, where the cuckoo clock was invented. The museum houses an estimated 100 cuckoo clocks as well as original design drawings and one of the original versions of the clock from the 1850s.


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