An Asylum Of Cuckoos

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, photo by Wanda Koepf
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, photo by Wanda Koepf

The yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is not often seen, but is a common summer time resident of the refuge.  They use dense wooded stands with lots of cover and water nearby to raise their broods.  Cuckoos may be described as patient feeders, sitting motionless on hidden perches until ready to strike.  They are one of the few bird species that are able to eat hairy caterpillars.  They have been observed eating 100 tent caterpillars at a time.  Fall webworms, gypsy moth larva, and tussock moth larva are frequently on the menu, supplemented with beetles, ants, spiders other insects, bird eggs and small fruits.   A rise in cuckoo populations is associated with gypsy moth outbreaks, so hopefully there will be frenzied feeding on these invasive pests this year. 

Yellow-billed cuckoos have one of the shortest nesting cycles of any bird species.    Incubation is only about 9 – 11 days, and fledging occurs in another 7 – 9 days.  Within a week of hatching the nestlings are fully feathered.  They occasionally lay eggs in nests of other birds, particularly the closely related black-billed cuckoo, but they are not obligate brood parasites like the common cuckoo of Eurasia.

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Cuckoos are long distance nocturnal migrants that winter in Central and South America, so they are vulnerable to collisions with tall buildings, wind turbines, cell towers and other tall structures. 

A group of cuckoos is referred to as a “cooch” or “asylum”.  Whose cuckoo idea was that!?