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Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Coccyzus americanus ORDER: CUCULIFORMES FAMILY: CUCULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are slender, long-tailed birds that manage to stay well hidden in deciduous woodlands. They usually sit stock still, even hunching their shoulders to conceal their crisp white underparts, as they hunt for large caterpillars. Bold white spots on the tail’s underside are often the most visible feature on a shaded perch. Fortunately, their drawn-out, knocking call is very distinctive. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are fairly common in the East but have become rare in the West in the last half-century.

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Calls

  • call
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  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Male Yellow-Billed Cuckoos make a distinctive series of hollow, wooden-sounding ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp syllables. The whole series is quite slow and gets slower toward the end; calls can last up to about 8 seconds. Males and females also make a soft, repeated cooing: unmated males give this call to attract females, and females coo during courtship. Both members of nesting pairs give a metallic, rattling call, and a series of kow-kow-kow notes that sounds like a metal door knocker hitting a strike plate.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are fairly easy to hear but hard to spot. In summer, start by looking in areas of deciduous forest for infestations of tent caterpillars, as well as outbreaks of cicadas or other large arthropods. Listen for the species’ distinctive, knocking call, which can be given at any time, night or day. Later in summer, listen more for their dove-like cooing, as they give their knocking call much less frequently. The species is virtually silent by day during migration, so watch for their distinctive long, slim shape and rapid and fluid wingbeats as they cross over open patches below treetop level on their way from one woodlot to another. In fall, areas with fall webworm infestations often support Yellow-billed Cuckoos.

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