Thursday, November 3, 2016

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Rare Fall Visitor

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
According to the Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated List, 2004, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a rare fall visitor to the province and a very rare spring visitor.  This fall seems to be one of those years when a few of these birds move into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  We have had 2 or 3 sightings in each province in the last 2 or 3 weeks.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo prefers riparian habitats.  The only times I have ever seen this bird, it has been in alder bushes.  It does not breed here so that explains why we see it only in the fall.  There is sometimes a movement from their breeding grounds further south (as close as southern Maine).  The normal breeding range of the species is most of the eastern US, northern Mexico, and some Caribbean islands.  It winters in northern South America.  The birds from this area and the Eastern Seaboard migrate down the eastern coast of the US, over Cuba and Haiti and on to South America.  

Yellow-billed Cuckoo [N Poirier Photo]
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a large, secretive bird.  It is 31 cm (12") long, mainly gray-brown on top and white underneath.  It has a long tail that has large white spots underneath.  It has a yellow eyering and its bill is bicolored with dark gray above and yellow below.  It shows rufous brown in its primary wing feathers.  It likes to hide in bushes and rarely shows itself.  It can be identified by its song, which is a rapid staccato kuk-kuk-kuk which slows down into a kind of yelping sound.  

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
The only species that one could confuse with the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is the Black-billed Cuckoo.  They are alike in size and coloration but the Yellow-billed has a yellow eyering (red in the Black-billed), yellow on its lower mandible, shows rufous on its wings and shows much more white on its tail.  The Black-billed is a summer resident and breeds here.  Its song can be heard in summer, a monotonous cu-cu-cu.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo eats mainly caterpillars, but also other insects, birds eggs, snails, small vertebrates, berries and other fruits.  It is most common here in years of heavy caterpillar infestations.

It is always interesting to see what avian surprises fall brings our way.

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