[Heb., plural, bar·bu·rimʹ].
In the Bible, this name occurs only once at 1 Kings 4:23, where the list of daily provisions of food for Solomon’s court includes “cuckoos [bar·bu·rimʹ].” (JB; NW) While other versions (KJ, RS) here read “fowl,” bar·bu·rimʹ seems to refer to a specific kind of bird rather than being simply a general term. Though some have identified it with the capon, the guinea hen, or the goose, lexicographer W. Baumgartner (Hebräisches und Aramäisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament, Leiden, 1967, p. 147) suggests the “cuckoo,” and this seems to be indicated by the Arabic name for that bird, abu burbur.
The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) and the great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) both pass through Palestine on their northern migration, arriving in early March. The cuckoo is a moderate-sized bird, resembling a small hawk, with a slightly curved, sharp, pointed beak. Usually cuckoos have inconspicuous colors such as light gray or light brown to reddish-brown or black. The underparts are often whitish with narrow black bars.
While some consider the cuckoo to be a rather small bird to be used on Solomon’s menu, it may be noted that even plucked sparrows were anciently sold in Middle Eastern markets. (Mt 10:29) Additionally, these cuckoos were “fattened” ones, and concerning such The American Cyclopædia says: “In autumn they are fat and esteemed as food; the ancients were very partial to them, and their flesh was supposed to have valuable medicinal properties.”—1883, Vol. V, p. 557.
The cuckoo is neither a carrion eater nor a bird of prey, but a valuable consumer of insects. It was legally “clean” and fit for use on Solomon’s royal table. While “the cuckow” is included in the King James Version as among the unclean birds, at Leviticus 11:16 and Deuteronomy 14:15, this translation (of the Hebrew shaʹchaph) is no longer considered acceptable.—See GULL.