Adult. Photo: Shayna Hartley/Audubon Photography Awards

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
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.
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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.

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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Black-billed Cuckoo

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Black-billed Cuckoo

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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