Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I was quite surprised by the cuckoo bird flying over our house.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. 

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a new species for me, a first-ever sighting. 

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are not rare, just unusual in Wisconsin.  They are common in Texas, Louisiana and the States of the lower Mississippi River, but not here in cooler Wisconsin.

He landed on a bare branch and looked back at me to contemplate his next move. Unsure and uneasy, he watched me only momentarily before bending low in preparation to depart. He showed me his boldly spotted under tail, then disappeared in a matter of seconds.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a slender, fine-featured bird with a bill of yellow that reflects his name.  Seen from the back, he’s rather unimpressive in shades of tan/gray, but seen from below, his belly, bill and long spotted tail detail a more complex bird.

A rusty-rufous patch on his wings and a proudly set black eye completes a portrait of an interesting bird.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is not alone in this world…he has family…a large family.

One close relative is the White-browed Coucal. This White-browed Coucal was no more inclined to linger than was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I encounter him last year in Kenya, Africa. He allowed me two pictures, that’s all, both identical, before also disappearing.

I’ve since learned that I was extremely lucky to even see a White-browed Coucal, for any length of time, as they are very wary of humans.  They quickly dive into the understory when approached and that’s the last you will see of them.

The Greater Roadrunner of the southwestern United States is also a relative of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. 

Fortunately, this roadrunner was far friendlier.   He not only posed for me on a rock, he waited politely, lingering to make sure I was finished shooting before he left…or so I'd like to think.

Some birds migrate by means of the stars and/or the earth’s electromagnetic field.  Being nocturnal migrants, they are vulnerable to collisions with tall building, wind turbines, antennas, cell and radio towers. Therefore, migrating at night has a danger in contemporary times, a danger that didn’t even present a hundred years ago. 

Birds didn’t evolve with man-made obstacles taller than the treetops, consequently they have no expectations of objects in their path. It’s a painful lesson for birds and a problem not likely to resolve itself to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s satisfaction anytime soon. 

Sadly, Yellow-billed Cuckoos have largely been expatriated from the western United States, where they once were widespread. Due to habitat loss, they are now listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline.  


The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds: