Black-billed Cuckoo

Ralph LaPlant

Often heard before seen, the black-billed cuckoo is a slim bird that often moves about at night. Cuckoo clocks emulate its call. I photographed this bird near its favorite habitat of thick vegetation near a marsh. Ralph LaPlant Photo
Often heard before seen, the black-billed cuckoo is a slim bird that often moves about at night. Cuckoo clocks emulate its call. I photographed this bird near its favorite habitat of thick vegetation near a marsh. Ralph LaPlant Photo

 

The black-billed cuckoo is a bird that is most often heard before seen as it favors thickets of vegetation to reside and move about. It is a relatively rare bird to observe, often moving about and singing at night.
    
Unique in appearance, this cuckoo is a slim bird about a foot long, having a brown back and white front. They also have a red ring around the eyes and by its name, a black bill.
    
The call of the cuckoo is like a cuckoo clocks chime, although slightly faster than the timepieces.
    
Covering most of the northern United States during the breeding season, this cuckoo migrates to South American in winter. As with most of its breeding range, Minnesota hosts this bird as a regular summer resident and migrant where they usually arrive in May or June and leave in early October, at the latest.

Tent caterpillars and gypsy moths are its main foods and an outbreak of these insects brings more cuckoos than normal. Other foods include beetles, grasshoppers, and eggs of other birds, snails, and small fish. One bird’s stomach examined had 250 caterpillars present.
    
The black-billed cuckoo breeds, for the most part, in deciduous thickets. These are commonly near the edges of woods or near marshes. They do like thick cover, as a rule.
    
During courtship, the male feeds the female. Nests are located in shrubs or low tree up to 20 feet high, but usually closer to ten. Nests are rarely built on the ground. Manufacturing materials include loosely placed sticks line with grasses, pine needles and soft materials.
    
Eggs laid are bluish-green and can be mottled darker. Four to five are laid and after an incubation by both parents lasting about two weeks, hatch. Occasionally the black-billed cuckoo will lay their eggs in the nest of the yellow-bill cuckoo or other species. Note that in the yellow-billed cuckoo’s northern range, which Minnesota is part of, the black-billed is more common. In about three weeks, the young can fly and when approached, often freeze in an upright position.
    
The black-billed cuckoo goes by other names, such as Kow-Kow (because of its call) and Rain Crow (because it was, at one time, believe that rain would follow a cuckoo’s calling).
    
Famous not only because of the clocks, cuckoos have been mentioned in the Bible and mythology and by Aristotle and William Wodsworth.