Up close with the wild animals of the Black Forest cuckoo clocks

February 25, 2017

Up close with the wild animals of the Black Forest cuckoo clocks

The Black Forest region is located in Baden-Württemberg, a state in southwestern Germany. Stretching west to the Rhine River and south into the Alpine foothills in Switzerland, it is famous for being the birthplace of the traditional cuckoo clock. The forest is said to have acquired it's name from the fact that it's tall and densely populated pine trees block so much light from the forest floor. Yet the Black Forest is a place of great serenity and home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Germany.

More interestingly this ancient forest is home to a range of animals and plants, all of which feature heavily in the designs of the traditional cuckoo clocks. These animals have shared this forest with the people of the Black Forest for millennia and their likeness - whether as the small yet famous cuckoo bird or the towering elk or curious brown bear - has been hand carved by artisans of the region for centuries out of the very same Black Forest wood from which these animals abound. 

So let us begin and explore the wild world of the animals of the Black Forest cuckoo clocks. We'll begin with the most famous of them all - the Black Forest Cuckoo bird.

The Black Forest Cuckoo Bird

The cuckoo bird, while being one of the most well known birds is, in truth, far less common to see in the wild than what it's reputation would have you believe. It is a shy bird, much more often heard than seen, which makes it an excellent candidate for a cuckoo clock since it can hide behind it's door for at least 59 minutes of every hour! 

With species found all around the world, the cuckoo bird - and star of the show in all traditional and modern cuckoo clocks - has a distinct call (or song) which makes it one of the most recognisable bird calls in the world.

Traditional Cuckoo Clock Chime

This call is replicated in all traditional 1-day and 8-day movement cuckoo clocks, with a series of paper bellows which, when the mechanism strikes the hour, are move like an accordion, to create the distinct bird call sound. 

Modern Cuckoo Clock Chime

In modern battery powered (quartz) cuckoo clocks the sound is generally a recorded bird sound over the sound of a babbling brook, which while more realistic, some may argue does not have the same distinct charm of the traditional cuckoo clock chime. Listen below and you can be see which you prefer:

Listen to the real cuckoo bird call in the wild:

And here is the mechanical sound from a 1-day or 8-day cuckoo clock:

And then the sound from a battery powered (quartz) cuckoo clock:

The design of the cuckoo bird changes from manufacturer to manufacturer. At Cuckoo Collections we stock a range of modern and traditional cuckoo clocks - all of which have a distinct cuckoo bird either made of wood or die-cast plastic. Many of the traditional cuckoo birds are hand-painted in an assembly line fashion with the job of 'cuckoo bird painter' going to a specific artist. 

The Black Forest Elk

The elk is a species of the deer animal family, known around the world by other names such as a moose, stag or hind. Capable of growing to stand over six feet tall at the shoulder and sometimes weighing over a ton, the European Elk is a majestic creature, whose antlers can spread over five feet from tip to tip.

It is these intricate and ornate antlers which lend themselves beautifully to the design of a traditional carved cuckoo clock. Reminiscent of the mounted trophies which have become synonymous with the classical, rustic style of old mansions and castles world-wide, the elk head with it's symmetrical antlers, belongs fittingly to a class of cuckoo clocks known as the 'Hunter' style carved cuckoo clock. Often times the carved mounted stag head is a part of a motif of symbolic imagery including but not limited to the hunting horn, the belt powder pouch and two crossed rifles - all symbols of the classic 'hunt'. Other horned animals featured in traditional cuckoo clocks are the Ibex and the Reindeer. 

The Black Forest Owl 

There are many variety of owl that live in the Black Forest. Often times the variety mounted atop a traditionally carved cuckoo clock is that of the common barn owl or great horned owl - which are medium to large owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. 

Mostly nocturnal animals, these decidedly sage-looking creatures, are a common motif in many carved cuckoo clocks and is oftentimes depicted in a pair, lovingly entwined. This makes an owl-themed cuckoo clock an excellent, thoughtful gift for a loved one. Just see our post here on 'Valentines Day themed cuckoo clocks'

Bears of the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock

Unfortunately the term 'Black Forest bear' is a misnomer, and bears are in fact not at all common in Germany - or at least not for the past hundred or so year. Driven out of populated areas by human activity, the European brown bear is a dwindling species throughout Europe. Their numbers have, only in recent years, managed to stabilise in pockets throughout the continent. 

Yet, as oftentimes is the case in the scene set by traditional chalet and carved cuckoo clocks, the brown bear is as much a part of the 19th century Black Forest as the water driven mill wheel and the horse-drawn cart. And it is in these scenes of a by-gone era that the brown bear usually takes centre stage: bearing it's teeth to a villager, standing gallantly amidst a clearing, or in a family of 'mama and baby bears' curiously passing a forest chalet. 

Eagles of the Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks

The most commonly represented eagle in the traditional cuckoo clock is the white-tailed eagle. In the wild, these noble birds hunt near a tree line, rising on naturally occurring upward flowing air currents. The can do this so effortlessly with their large wing span which can reach over 8 feet in length (200-245 cm) in adults, making them one of the largest of the eagle sub-species. 

Soaring silently through the sky, these predatory birds survey fields and meadows from sometimes over 10000 feet, using their keen eyesight to spot prey. 

the artisans of the Black Forest are able to capture these majestic creatures beautifully in colour or in natural stained oak; often depicted above the tree line, with their attention trained on am unsuspecting squirrel or rabbit. 

Dogs of the Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks

Finally, an animal list would not be complete without mans best friends. In our cuckoo clocks we have a range of varieties, from the Saint Bernard to the German Shepherds, to Beagles, and more. Suit your taste, and remember, these dogs don't need to be taken out for a walk!

Originally the Saint Bernard dog breed was used to guard the grounds of Switzerland’s Hospice Saint Bernard. Their long, shaggy coat - perfect for winters - and their loyal and obedient nature make them an excellent family dog. But take note any Londoners reading this, Saint Bernards are a very large breed so you might want to make sure you get that patio extension finished before you welcome this cuddly creature into your home. Luckily the cuckoo clock kind are not life sized!

German Shepherds a not a lazy breed. Originally bred, as the name suggests, in Germany as a sheep herding variety, these canines are known for their strength, intelligence, trainability, and obedience. In the USA, this breed is the 2nd most commonly registered dog, while in the UK they are the fourth. We see them mostly on carved and chalet cuckoo clocks in a heel stance, with their ears perked, awaiting command. 

And finally the other friends of the Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks

But if dogs are not your cup of tea, we have a range of cute creatures dotted to admire from scene to scene - atop cottage roofs, or hidden in the woodpile; ducks cheekily waddling amidst the Black Forest grass; kittens perched by the fence; wild boars and cows; squirrels, rabbits and chickens. Our cuckoo clock scenes are alive with animals just waiting to be cherished. 

So if you're looking for a gift for the animal lover in your life, look no further than our animal themed cuckoo clocks - or peruse our full range of both traditional and modern cuckoo clocks. 

Cuckoo Collections is here to help you find the perfect modern or traditional cuckoo clock for you or as the perfect gift. If you have any questions us at hello@cuckoocollection.co.uk or call 020 3290 7690