We may be denied the sound of Big Ben and leather on willow now but there’s one aural treat certain to lift spirits in these dark and perilous days.

Two-tone calls of male cuckoos will pierce the lockdown-induced silence like foghorns to signal spring is truly here.

You may have heard one already. Cuckoos were reported in Herefordshire on January 30, Hampshire on February 8 and Leicestershire on March 5 although these may have been the similar-sounding collared dove. Cuckoos rarely leave their African wintering grounds until March and April 14 is the traditional arrival date in Britain. Over 20 years of records my own earliest cuckoo date is April 5.

Wild Things: A fond memory of being outdoors

The bird world’s biggest cheat has a complicated and ingenious lifestyle discussed in a new book. “The Cuckoo-the uninvited guest” examines many of the questions which puzzled scientists for years.

Why host parents watch indifferently while a cuckoo chick ejects their eggs or young from nests, why they don’t desert a vast chick three times their size and how a female matches her eggs to those of the host are some of the topics addressed in a book featuring dozens of spectacular photographs.

Aristotle wrote about cuckoos laying eggs in nests of other birds but country doctor Edward Jenner, who later pioneered smallpox injections, first realised their still blind chicks eject host parents eggs from the nest in 1796. He endured derision and scorn from disbelieving academics.

Wild Things: The problem with animal protection laws

Cuckoo host species number about 20 in Britain with five most regularly targeted: reed warbler, dunnock, meadow pipit, robin and pied wagtail.

Female cuckoos often lurk in trees overlooking reedbeds, patiently waiting for a chance to lay in an unattended nest. Crossness nature reserve in Abbey Wood is a good place to look. If the reserve is closed you may be able to spot a cuckoo from the river path.

If you can’t get out to see or hear cuckoos in summer, be patient and read this excellent book instead. It’s a tonic.

The Cuckoo-the uninvited guest by Oldrich Mikulica, Tomas Grim, Karl Schulze-Hagen and Bard Stokke is published by Wild Nature Press price £19.99. Order from press.princeton.edu or Waterstones online ordering service.