Y is for Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Contrary to their dapper appearance, these foot-long fellas are generally shy and quite practiced at the art of disguise; remaining so still as to blend into the scenery. Though you might not always see these birds, you certainly won’t miss their rather loud, rapid staccato call that sounds at first like a call to attention with a hollow wooden tube.
From the penguin-like cape that drapes the head and shoulders, to the layers of colors beneath, to the black and yellow bill, these guys are certainly dressed in their Sunday best and not surprisingly, their feathers make up nearly half their body weight!
Enjoying summers among cottonwoods along the San Pedro River, they’re here for much of the monsoon and are sometimes called “Rain Crows” for their tendency to call at the sound of thunder. Otherwise the Cuckoos spend their days dining on chubby caterpillars and are first in line to take advantage of any sort of cicada, moth or tent caterpillar outbreak.
The male and female build their nest together, though interestingly, they put a few of their eggs in nests of other birds! Thus, the name? In addition, these monogamous creatures are known to have an occasional extra male hanging around the nest as a type of ‘nanny’.
As summer winds down the Cuckoos head for South America for the winter as avid birders look anxiously forward to their return because the nocturnal migratory flights of the Cuckoo are imperiled by collisions with cellphone towers, tall buildings, etc., and just last year they (Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo) were officially added to the Endangered Species List.
As we get down to the wire now, one more letter left, I have to admit to being a little research weary (though I’ve enjoyed it immensely!), and find I keep having to do a double-take on the word ‘underparts’ – ha! Anyone else?