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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

A rapid, harsh, rattling ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kowp, kowp, kowp, kowp, slowing down at the end.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Yellow-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 Near You

Climate threats facing the Yellow-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.