Photo: Sara Morris
The Black-billed Cuckoo is related to all cuckoos of
the world but they do not lay their eggs in other bird’s nests like
Old World cuckoos. The Black-billed Cuckoo looks a lot like the
Yellow-billed Cuckoo that also occurs in Western New York. They are
both very similar looking with a brown back and a white belly. You
can tell the difference between the two species from the Black-billed Cuckoo’s
all black bill and a lighter under-tail. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo
instead has a yellow lower bill and a darker under-tail. If there is
a good look at the Black-billed Cuckoo’s eye you can also see a red eye ring.
Black-billed Cuckoos eat many large insects and
mostly consume caterpillars, especially Eastern Tent Caterpillars.
This means that there can be a lot of cuckoos in Western New York
one year where there is a surge of caterpillars but almost no
cuckoos when there is a break out of caterpillars somewhere else.
Cuckoos find most of their food in the canopy layer of the forest
where they will eat insects found on tops of trees. They hunt by
sitting still and watching for insects to move so they can take a
short flight to capture their food. They are mainly seen in young
deciduous forests and mixed coniferous/deciduous forests where there
are a lot of insects that they feed on.
Black-billed Cuckoos are very shy birds so they’re
hard to spot. As mentioned above when cuckoos are feeding they tend
to sit still and wait for their prey making them even harder to find
because they are so observant and still. Nesting for cuckoos will
coincide with the amount of food that they could find for their
chicks. They will wait until there are emerging caterpillars or
cicadas before they will start brooding eggs. These green-blue eggs
will be found in a platform or shallow cup nest that can be found in
thick bushes or trees with thick branches. When the eggs are being
hatched both the male and the female will incubate, feed and brood
the young. The parent cuckoo may help its offspring feed by
crushing the insect before feeding the chick.
WHERE TO FIND THEM
It’s never a guarantee to see a Black-billed Cuckoo
in any one year but places where they are seen locally during the
Letchworth State Park and
Iroquois National Wildlife refuge.