And here's an interesting twist to this story. Some folks must have figured that out a long time ago. One of the definitions in my dictionary says a cuckoo is "an idiot, a fool." Payne thinks that definition probably dates back to the early days of the British empire.
"There was big concern about who was the lawful offspring of the king," he says. "They had wars about that sort of thing. It was a matter of life or death to towns to know if their claimant to the throne was the right one or not. "
In other words, was the king really the father, or had an interloper slipped into the queen's bed, thus making the king a "cuckold?"
"Cuckoo" thus became a taunt, because any man who would let his wife lay with another must surely be a fool.
It may be a bum rap, though, for a bird that has figured out how to keep its family tree alive, even if its elevator doesn't go all the way to the top.
Lee Dye's column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.