Yellow-billed Cuckoo. (photo by Todd Arcos)

Heard and not seen: Yellow-billed Cuckoos or “Raincrows”

Published 11:33am Monday, June 11, 2012

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is one of those shy, hard to find species that is more often heard than seen. Here in the Carolinas, its distinctive song of loud clucking notes is a familiar sound during the summer months. The cuckoo’s breeding range encompasses the eastern United States as far north as southern Canada; the prairie states; small pockets in the West; and portions of northern Mexico. Here in the eastern US, this cuckoo prefers open woodlands, riverine thickets and brushy edges. It winters primarily in South America, from Panama south to northern Argentina, where it forages in open forest and young successional habitats.
Although the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is not an uncommon bird, the secretive nature of this bird prevents many people from seeing it. It is not colorful, but has very distinctive plumage. As well as a brown head and back and snowy-white breast and belly, the cuckoo sports red-brown wing feathers and a long tail spotted below with large white tails spots. It also has a bright yellow lower portion of the bill, hence the bird’s common name.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos forage for many species of insects, especially large caterpillars with tent caterpillars being especially attractive food items and both Yellow and Black-billed Cuckoos may assist in controlling populations of these tree defoliators. Their nests are rather loosely constructed platforms of sticks and lined with roots, dead leaves and pine needles. Three to four blue eggs are laid.

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