Garth McElroy/Vireo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Coccyzus americanus

Conservation status Local numbers rise and fall with insect outbreaks; however, surveys show a general decline in recent decades. The species has disappeared from some western areas and is considered endangered in others, with loss of habitat a major cause.
Family Cuckoos, Roadrunners, Anis
Habitat Woodlands, thickets, orchards, streamside groves. Breeds mostly in dense deciduous stands, including forest edges, tall thickets, dense second growth, overgrown orchards, scrubby oak woods. Often in willow groves around marshes. In the west, mostly in streamside trees, including cottonwood-willow groves in arid country.
Sometimes common but usually hard to observe, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo inhabits dense leafy groves and thickets during the summer. Its stuttering, croaking calls, audible at a great distance, are often heard on hot, humid afternoons; people sometimes call this bird the "rain crow," imagining that it is calling for rain.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by clambering about through shrubs and trees, gleaning insects from foliage and branches. May fly up and hover momentarily to pluck a caterpillar or other creature from foliage; sometimes flies out from a perch to catch a flying insect.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 1-5 or even more; may lay more eggs in seasons when caterpillars or other insects are abundant. Occasionally lays eggs in nest of Black-billed Cuckoo or other bird. Eggs pale bluish green. Incubation is by both parents (but female may do more), 9-11 days, perhaps sometimes longer. Young: Fed by both parents. Young may leave nest and climb about in branches after about a week; can fly in about 3 weeks. In some cases, first young to leave the nest are tended by male, last ones by female.


Young

Fed by both parents. Young may leave nest and climb about in branches after about a week; can fly in about 3 weeks. In some cases, first young to leave the nest are tended by male, last ones by female.

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 cicadas, beetles, grasshoppers, katydids, others. Also may eat some lizards, frogs, eggs of other birds, and berries and small fruits.


Nesting

In courtship, male feeds female. Nest site is in tree, shrub, or vines, usually 4-10' above the ground, sometimes up to 20' or higher. Nest (built by both sexes) is a small, loosely-made platform of twigs and stems, with thin lining of grass, pine needles, leaves, and other materials.

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

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Mostly arrives late in spring and departs early in fall. A long-distance migrant, some going as far as Argentina in winter. Sometimes heard calling overhead at night during migration.

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Migration

Mostly arrives late in spring and departs early in fall. A long-distance migrant, some going as far as Argentina in winter. Sometimes heard calling overhead at night during migration.

Songs and Calls
A rapid, harsh, rattling ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kowp, kowp, kowp, kowp, slowing down at the end.
Western Rivers

Western Rivers

Audubon is working to identify, protect, and restore priority riparian Important Bird Areas throughout the Southwest

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