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It’s your nature: Cuckoos

Well I haven’t switched to writing topics on home décor or collectibles. Cuckoos (birds, of course) are represented in the Times News area by two species.

These are the yellow-billed cuckoo and the black-billed cuckoo. Both of these species, at least in my experience, are more likely heard than seen.

Those of you who are birding newbies probably have heard these birds but didn’t have a clue what bird was making their unusual calls. The yellow-billed and black-billed both have distinct and different calls and I would suggest that you find a site online to listen to them.

They are quite different from the usual robin, cardinal, or bluebird song.

The other birds in the cuckoo family are the mangrove cuckoo and maybe surprising to you, the greater roadrunner. Both can be found if you look in their preferred habitats. The mangrove cuckoo, similar to “our “ species is limited to southwestern coastal Florida living in the mangroves lining much of the coast. The roadrunner is a southwestern U.S. species.

The yellow-billed cuckoo is about a foot long (a robin is 10 inches) but the long, slim tail is what adds to its size. The black-billed is about an inch smaller. Both seem to glide through the trees with their sleek body shapes. They are not very active when feeding and will often sit motionless on a limb for a while waiting for their favorite food, caterpillars.

If the area they first move into has good food, they’ll probably remain there to breed. In years when the eastern tent caterpillar numbers are great, I see more cuckoos. They will also eat other larger insects, including cicadas and praying mantises. Both cuckoo species also eat gypsy moth caterpillars.

Only a few other bird species will eat the rather large and hairy gypsy moth caterpillars. Grackles and catbirds are two of the others. The unfortunate thing is that in years of gypsy moth outbreaks, there are just not enough cuckoos or grackles to control the massive outbreaks.

The yellow-billed cuckoo indeed has a yellowish lower mandible, while the black-billed cuckoo has both upper and lower mandibles dark in color. In flight, the yellow-billed cuckoo will show a burnt orange coloration to its wings and can help you in identification purposes. Again, hearing them call is the distinctive method of identification.

This year, I have heard and found more yellow-billed cuckoos. Normally, at least in my birding areas, I seem to locate more black-billed cuckoos. The cuckoos don’t remain here for the winter of course and they over winter in South America.

I can expect to see the first cuckoos arriving about the same time in early May as the leaves begin emerging and the leaf eating caterpillars can be found. I’ll conclude by reminding you to go online to hear their song and you then know what birds are making those unusual calls. Enjoy …

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Yellow-billed cuckoos, after hatching, remain in the nest ___ days. A. 7 B. 14 C. 20 C. 25

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: About 100-120 million tons of polypropylene are produced globally each year.

I have to correct an omission. On a previous trivia question, the answer of white blooming flowers should be they rely on their scent which moths with their very sensitive, feathery antennae find at night.

I know no other songbird that has such a long tail giving both cuckoo species that sleek look.
The yellow-billed cuckoo has a light colored lower mandible, has a different song, rusty edge to its wings in flight and about an inch larger than the “black-billed.” BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Good binoculars will allow you to see the 'neat' eye ring of the black-billed cuckoo.