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    Black-billed Cuckoo Life History


    Habitat ForestsBlack-billed Cuckoos are birds of woodlands and thickets, including aspen, poplar, birch, sugar maple, hickory, hawthorn, and willow. They tend to occur in more extensive tracts of woods than the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and are more likely to be found in deciduous than coniferous woods. On their South American wintering grounds they live in forest, woodlands, and scrub. Back to top


    Food InsectsBlack-billed Cuckoos eat large insects such as caterpillars, katydids, cicadas, and grasshoppers. They seem to have a particular appetite for large caterpillars—collected individuals have often been found with more than 100 in their stomach at once. Along with Yellow-billed Cuckoo, this is one of only two species found to be more numerous during periodic cicada emergences in a recent analysis. Black-billed Cuckoos occasionally eat eggs of other birds. On their wintering grounds they also eat fruit and seeds. Back to top


    Nest Placement

    Nest TreeBlack-billed Cuckoos hide their nests among leaves or tangles in deciduous trees, shrubs, or brambles (occasionally coniferous trees such as hemlock). Nests are usually less than 7 feet off the ground but can be up to 50 feet high.

    Nest Description

    Both adults help build the nest, with the female laying eggs in it before it's completed. The nest is flimsy—a shallow cup made of twigs and grasses and lined with dead or green leaves, pine needles, stalks, plant fibers, rootlets, mosses, and spider webs. The finished nest is about 6 inches across, with an inner cup that is 3 inches across and less than an inch deep.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:2-5 eggs
    Number of Broods:1-2 broods
    Egg Length:0.9-1.3 in (2.4-3.3 cm)
    Egg Width:0.7-0.9 in (1.8-2.4 cm)
    Incubation Period:10-11 days
    Nestling Period:6-7 days
    Egg Description:Greenish-blue, unmarked.
    Condition at Hatching:Helpless, but alert and active within minutes of hatching. Shiny black skin, no down.
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    Behavior Foliage GleanerBlack-billed Cuckoos catch prey by sitting motionless for long periods, then running or hopping out at prey. They often shake and hammer caterpillars against a branch to remove their spines before swallowing. Black-billed Cuckoos occasionally lay eggs in nests of other birds, though they do this far less often than the European cuckoo or the Brown-headed Cowbird. Among their hosts are other Black-billed Cuckoos, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, Gray Catbirds, Wood Thrushes, and six other species. Young leave the nest at 6-7 days old, about two weeks before they will be able to fly. Waits motionless for long periods, watching for prey to move. Back to top


    Conservation DecliningBlack-billed Cuckoo populations declined by almost 3% per year in some parts of North America, resulting in a cumulative loss of about 66% between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 870,000, with 53% breeding in Canada, 47% spending part of the year in the U.S., and 100% passing through Mexico to their wintering grounds in South America. The species rates a 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and they are on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. Black-billed Cuckoo is also listed as a High Priority concern on Audubon Watch Lists. Because caterpillars are a main prey they can be susceptible to pesticide use. Black-billed Cuckoos are also frequently felled by collisions with TV towers, tall buildings, and other structures during migration. Their populations fluctuate considerably from year to year as the birds move from place to place following outbreaks of prey. This variability makes it difficult to determine whether their overall numbers show a trend upward or downward. However, regional (statewide) estimates suggest that populations are declining.Back to top


    Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

    Hughes, J. M. 2018. Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

    Hughes, Janice M. 2001. Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

    Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

    Sibley, D. A. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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