Nestling cuckoos, Cuculus canorus, eject host eggs or young from the nest and are then raised alone by the hosts. Using reed warblers, Acrocephalus scirpaceus, as hosts, we investigated how the single cuckoo chick can command the same provisioning rate as a whole brood of host young. Large size alone is not sufficient to stimulate adequate provisioning because single blackbird, Turdus merula, or song thrush, T. philomelos, chicks of the same mass as a cuckoo were fed at a lower rate. Our experiments show that the key stimulus is the cuckoo chick's rapid begging call (‘si, si, si, si ...’), which sounds remarkably like a whole brood of host chicks, and which it matched in calling rate. When single blackbird or song thrush chicks were accompanied by loudspeakers that broadcast either cuckoo begging calls or calls of a brood of reed warblers, the hosts increased their provisioning rate to that for a cuckoo chick. We suggest that the cuckoo needs vocal trickery to stimulate adequate care to compensate for the fact that it presents a visual stimulus of just one gape.