This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed a 9 percent decrease in designated habitat for the western distinct population of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo) (Coccyzus americanus) even though it is found in only a fraction of its former range in the American West. Listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act, the species is listed as endangered in California, critically imperiled in Nevada, sensitive in Utah, and of concern or of greatest conservation need in seven additional western states.
Surveys coordinated by various state and federal agencies document fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs of the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo existing throughout its range. Furthermore, regional populations of the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo have estimated median declines of more than 2% each year since the 1960s. Their steep population decline is linked to the loss of more than 90 percent of their breeding habitat.
Water diversions, dams, and extended drought impacting Southwestern river corridors have wiped out most of the cottonwood and willow forests that once lined the riverbanks. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are still extremely vulnerable to additional habitat loss along streams and rivers.
The USFWS is also considering a petition to delist the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo from Endangered Species Act protections.
As a priority species identified in Audubon’s Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline report from 2017, we strongly believe the USFWS should not decrease Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo protected critical habitat. Audubon will prepare and submit comments and we encourage others to do so as well here.
More attention, research, and resources are needed for true conservation of the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, not a decrease in designated critical habitat.