YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO – (Coccyzus americanus)
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is also called ‘Rain Crow’ in the southern USA, as it is associated with bad weather due to it singing during thunderstorms. It is a long, slender bird at almost 30 cm (12 in.) long, with white under parts and brown tops. There is a rufous patch on the wing. The tail is long and has white spots on the under side. The bill, as the species’ English name implies, is yellow with some black on the upper mandible. The eyes are black and the legs grey. Cuckoos have two backward-facing toes instead of one, which allows them easier foraging in shrubs and trees.
The English name for this bird is an onomatopoeia for its call. The Latin genus name ‘Coccyzus’ is from ancient Greek and means ‘cuckoo’.
The habitat of this cuckoo is the deciduous forest, where it forages in the trees for insects, and also catches them on the fly. Yellow-billed cuckoos have the ability to eat hairy caterpillars, including the tent species. They roll the caterpillars in their bills to try and remove their spines, but they still end up with spines in their stomachs. They then shed the lining of their stomachs to get rid of them. They also feed on small reptiles and berries. Yellow-billed cuckoos are easier to hear than to see, due to their foraging habits.
The nest is built in a shrub or tree near the ground. This cuckoo can be a brood parasite when food is plentiful, but not an ‘obligate’ one. Some of its targets include American Robins, Wood Thrushes and Grey Catbirds.
The yellow-billed cuckoo does not breed on PEI, and since this is an irruptive species, its numbers will fluctuate over the years, matching outbreaks of its insect preys. Observations on PEI have been reported in the fall of 2017 for this species. There have also been reports of breeders elsewhere in the Maritimes and in the south of Ontario, but this bird’s main breeding range is in the eastern half of the USA and the northern part of Mexico. It spends the winter in the rest of Mexico, and Central and South America.
Conservation: although still listed as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN, the yellow-billed cuckoo has experienced a steep decline in the western USA, mainly due to loss of habitat. Another threat is exposure to pesticides because of their diet of pest caterpillars. Finally, because they migrate at night, they are vulnerable to collisions with tall buildings during their long migration.