BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO(Coccyzus erythropthalmus) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Black-billed Cuckoo is a long, slender bird with white under parts and brown tops. The down-curved bill is black, as the English name implies. The eyes are dark with a red eye ring. Bird is around 30 cm (12 inches), with the tail taking up about half that length.
VOICE: – This bird’s call can be heard at night or before the rain (giving the species the name of ‘rain crow’).
NAME: The English name ‘Cuckoo’ is an onomatopoeia for its call. The Latin genus name ‘Coccyzus’ is from ancient Greek and means ‘cuckoo’, and ‘erythrophtalmus’ is Greek for ‘red eye’.
HABITAT: Diversified – mature deciduous forests, wetlands with alders, or young forests with lots of thick shrubs.
DIET: Mainly caterpillars, including spiny ones. The bird shakes the spiny ones to try and remove their spines, but they still end up with some in their stomachs. Their solution: shedding the lining of their stomachs to get rid of them.
NESTING: The nest is built in a shrub or tree not far from the ground in a well-concealed area. About two or three green-blue eggs are laid, incubated by both parents. They also both feed the chicks.
This cuckoo is a brood parasite, like many in its family, but not an ‘obligate’ one. Some of its targets include its own species, and also the American Robin, Chipping Sparrow and Grey Catbird.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range includes the region east of the Rockies in the south part of Canada and the northern part of the USA. Wintering grounds are located in the northwest region of South America.
ON PEI: In spite of breeding on Prince Edward Island, the occurrence of this species on the island is rare.
CONSERVATION: Population levels of this cuckoo fluctuate with the availability of prey. Because of their diet, it is vulnerable to pesticides.
NOTES: The black-billed cuckoo is easier to hear than see. Cuckoos have two backward-facing toes instead of one, which allows them easier foraging in shrubs and trees.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Yellow-billed Cuckoo
REFERENCES: (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas) (Great Lakes Bird Conservation, University of Wisconsin Green Bay)
Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (Black-billed Cuckoo)

Black-billed-cuckoo – West Meadow Beach, NY – photo by Wolfgang Wander
Black-billed cuckoo, NY
by Wolfgang Wander