Photo: Garth McElroy/Vireo

Black-billed Cuckoo

Coccyzus erythropthalmus

Slipping furtively through leafy thickets, this slim, long-tailed bird is heard more often than seen. It seems even more elusive than the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and is generally seen less often during migration, although the Black-billed is the more common nesting bird toward the north.
Conservation status Local numbers rise and fall as birds move around in response to caterpillar outbreaks. Surveys suggest no major change in overall population in North America.
Family Cuckoos, Roadrunners, Anis
Habitat Wood edges, groves, thickets. Breeds mostly in deciduous thickets and shrubby places, often on the edges of woodland or around marshes. Also in second growth of mixed deciduous-coniferous woods, or along their brushy edges. In migration, seeks any kind of dense cover, usually among young trees or tall shrubs.
Slipping furtively through leafy thickets, this slim, long-tailed bird is heard more often than seen. It seems even more elusive than the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and is generally seen less often during migration, although the Black-billed is the more common nesting bird toward the north.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages by moving about through shrubs and trees, clambering and hopping among the branches, gleaning insects from foliage.


Eggs

2-3, sometimes 4-5. May lay more eggs in seasons when caterpillars are abundant. Eggs blue-green, occasionally mottled darker. Incubation is by both parents, 10-14 days. Occasionally lays eggs in nest of Yellow-billed Cuckoo or other bird. Young: Fed by both parents. May leave nest within a week after hatching, climb about in branches; if disturbed, young bird may "freeze" in upright position, with neck stretched and bill pointed straight up. Age of young at first flight about 3 weeks.


Young

Fed by both parents. May leave nest within a week after hatching, climb about in branches; if disturbed, young bird may "freeze" in upright position, with neck stretched and bill pointed straight up. Age of young at first flight about 3 weeks.

Diet

Caterpillars and other insects. Feeds heavily on caterpillars when available, including hairy types such as tent caterpillars and others; also other insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, others. Also may eat some snails, small fish, eggs of other birds, and berries and small fruits.


Nesting

In courtship, male feeds female. Nest site is in shrub or low tree, 1-20' above the ground, usually lower than 10', placed among dense branches. May sometimes nest on the ground. Nest (probably built by both sexes) a loose platform of sticks, usually well lined with leaves, grass, pine needles, catkins, other soft material.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

A long-distance migrant, going to South America for the winter. Migrates at night; sometimes heard calling in flight overhead at night during spring.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

A long-distance migrant, going to South America for the winter. Migrates at night; sometimes heard calling in flight overhead at night during spring.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A series of soft mellow cu-cu-cu-cu notes in groups of 2-5, all on the same pitch.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Cuckoos, Roadrunners, Anis Perching Birds

Black-billed Cuckoo

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds