By Russ Chappell
High on the list of any Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s culinary menu are caterpillars. They are one of a few species capable of eating hairy caterpillars, and often consume thousands each season.
A close relative of the Greater Roadrunner and Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-Billed Cuckoos have a croaking call they often voice in response to loud sounds, such as thunder, leading to the nick name “rain crow.”
Fairly large, long, and slim with a long, primarily yellow, thick, downward curved bill and flat head, they are a distinctive bird with brownish backs, white underparts and yellow orbital eyering. They also display wide white bands mixed with narrower black ones on their tails.
The parents share nest building, incubation and brooding of their young. Eggs are laid one at a time over several days, with the period between eggs being as long as 5 days, making the period from incubation to total fledging around 17 days. Chicks are born featherless, with the young fully feathered and ready to leave the nest within a week.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos forage methodically in treetops for large, hairy caterpillars and live primarily in the canopies of deciduous trees in woodland areas. In the West, they are elusive and difficult to spot, normally found in Cottonwood-dominated areas near rivers flowing through arid habitats.
They are visitors to the Prescott and Verde River regions in the summer and though difficult to locate can be found if you look in the right areas. For insight into past sightings check out eBird reports at EBird.Org/ebird/hotspots. Simply type “Yellow-billed Cuckoo” in the Hot Spots search window for maps and lists of past and current sightings.
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is recognized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife as a “threatened” species, meaning they are likely to be “endangered” in the near future, and several bird organizations are involved in USFW sponsored scientific surveys monitoring their status.
Spotting a Yellow-billed Cuckoo is something most birders only dream of, so if you are successful you will be joining an elite group. Are you up to the challenge?
Prescott Audubon Society is an official Chapter of the National Audubon Society. Through our “Window On Nature” presentations, exciting field trips, and a multitude of educational outreach programs, PAS is your one-stop nature resource. Check us out online at PrescottAudubon.Org.
Russ Chappell is a member of the Prescott Audubon Society and supports the Chapter as webmaster and as needed. A retired helicopter pilot, he spent most of his life avoiding birds, now he spends time photographing and studying them.