Hey guys, welcome back. Today we have the first of two North American cuckoo species (and we won’t get to the second of the two for quite sometime.) The yellow-billed cuckoo is a fairly large songbird; about the size of a blue jay, and has a very long tail. They are brown above and white below, sport a yellow bill (go figure), and have a tail the underside of which is black with large white spots. Despite their name, they don’t make the famous cuckoo clock sound most people think of. Instead, they make a weird, and very distinctive sort of croaking sound.
Yellow-billed cuckoos are fairly common in the east, but have become rare in the western Us for reasons not entirely known. Although fairly common, they are notoriously hard to spot. Unlike many birds, cuckoos will sit still in a tree for hours as at time. Seeing one requires a bit of luck. Cuckoos are birds I’ve been chasing since I began birding. Central Park would often get one or two a year, and I’d always go chasing them down. Going to the spot they were seen, sometimes just minutes after they were reported, only to come up empty. After a few frustrating attempts, I resigned myself to the fact that if/when I’m meant to see one, I would. Then, one day while walking through the Ravine in Central Park I looked ahead of me, and there at eye level just off the path was a cuckoo. No sooner did the thought formulate in my head than it flew off. Fortunately a birder was behind me and saw it fly off. I knew it was a cuckoo, but in that instant I couldn’t recall what color bill it had. Fortunately that other birder saw it and confirmed yellow-billed. The one pictured here was a bird I happen to see by chance. I saw a large reddish brown bird and it was too big to be anything else. But it was in some dense foliage. Finally I got a clear shot. Took me until a couple weeks ago to finally spot its black-billed cousin.
Yellow-billed cuckoos are one of the few birds able to eat hairy caterpillars which can help cut back on those caterpillars’ defoliating habits. They do build nests, and interestingly lay their eggs one at a time, days (as many as 5) apart! Yellow-billed cuckoos have a very short nesting period; just over two weeks from incubation to fledging. They do partake in brood parasitism, but not nearly to the extent of the Eurasian cuckoo and they don’t rely on this as their preferred form of parenting. All in all, they’re pretty cool birds. Next up is either the largest member of the warbler family, or not. Yellow-breasted chat is next. See you then!
I heard one in my backyard just this morning! Thanks for telling us more about this somewhat elusive bird! William
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