The Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

By Dave Hanks

This cousin of the Roadrunner is a slow moving denizen of eastern and southern woodlands. The Yellow-Billed Cuckoo has a curved yellow beak, a long tail that is brown above and black and white striped below, a white breast, and is rather large for a songbird. Another cousin, the Black-Billed Cuckoo, has a red orbital ring and smaller tail spots.

This bird eats large quantities of hairy caterpillars. It will wait motionless for long periods watching for prey movement. Once the caterpillar is caught, the bird will pull it back and forth in its bill. This probably removes the hairiness before the victim is ingested.

The entire nesting period is very short. It takes 17 days from egg laying until the fledglings leave the nest. Six days after hatching the young’s feathers pop out of their sheaths and within two hours they are fully feathered. Yellow-Billed Cuckoos will occasionally lay eggs in other bird’s nests. Records of at least 11 different species have had this practice foisted upon them.

A loud Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka-Kow-Kow-Kow can be easily heard. This species has the unusual habit of much calling on hot days,which often presages a tunderstorm.

The cuckoo is anything but crazy and does not merit the label. However, habitat loss has caused a decline in this species numbers. It can be heard, but a sighting of this bird is unusual. We have been lucky on two occasions – once in North Dakota and again in southern Texas. My wife saw one in a tree in southern Texas, grabbed the camera from me, and crawled on her hands and knees to get this picture.

(At rest and keeping a low profile)