- ORDER: Cuculiformes
- FAMILY: Cuculidae
Uncommon and elusive, the Black-billed Cuckoo skulks around densely wooded eastern forests and thickets. Its staccato can be heard day and night, but getting a look at its slender brown body and namesake black bill may take a bit of patience. If it pops into view, notice its red eye ring and small white tips on the underside of its tail feathers. On the breeding grounds, this ardent caterpillar-eater makes quick work of tent caterpillars and webworms.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Black-billed Cuckoos are secretive and tend to perch motionless for long periods, so finding one can be tricky. Listen for their staccato cuckoo song, which sounds clearer with less of a knocking quality than the similar Yellow-billed Cuckoo. They are quite vocal especially at night in midsummer; a perfect time to go scouting with your ears so that you can return to their locations the next day. Keep your eyes peeled for a long, hunchbacked shape in the middle story of the forest. Even if you think it's just a funny looking branch it might be worth a second look. Because they have an appetite for caterpillars, look for areas with tent caterpillars or fall webworms.
- Cuclillo piquinegro (Spanish)
- Coulicou à bec noir (French)
- Cool Facts
- Cuckoos eat lots of spiny caterpillars, and those spines end up sticking to the lining of their stomach. To get rid of the spines, they periodically shed the stomach lining, coughing it up in one giant pellet, similar to an owl.
- Both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos are sometimes called “rain crows” because, according to folklore, they tend to call just before rain starts to fall.
- The Common Cuckoo of the Old World is famous for laying its eggs in other birds’ nests. Black-billed Cuckoos occasionally do this, but more often they build their own nest and raise their chicks themselves, as most birds do.
- The time from egg laying to fledging is 17 days and is among the shortest for any bird. At 6 days old, nestlings look like little porcupines with long pointed feather sheaths (a thin tube of keratin that surrounds and protects a developing feather). When they are ready to leave the nest their feathers pop out of the sheaths like popcorn, turning the spiky nestling into a fully feathered bird.
- When young birds are threatened they strike a pose similar to an American Bittern with their neck outstretched and bill pointed skywards.
- Cuckoos have zygodactyl feet—2 toes point forward and 2 toes point backward. Owls, Osprey, and woodpeckers also have zygodactyl feet.
- The oldest known Black-billed Cuckoo was at least 4 years old; it was banded in Ontario in 1965 and recovered in Connecticut in 1969.