Black-billed Cuckoo



Black-billed Cuckoo





Coccyzus erythropthalmus

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.




It’s never a guarantee to see a Black-billed Cuckoo in any one year but places where they are seen locally during the summer include Letchworth State Park and Iroquois National Wildlife refuge.


Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.