BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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CUCKOOS: FAMILY CUCULIDÆ

Neither of our two species of Cuckoo gives the cuckoo cry of the European species.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO. Coccyzus erythrophthalmus
11.83 in.

Ad.— Upper parts uniform brown; under parts white; bill black; skin about the eye red; small tips of white on all but the inner pair of tail-feathers.

Nest, of sticks, loosely constructed, in a bush or a low tree, or in a dense mass of vines. Eggs, pale greenish-blue.

The Black-billed Cuckoo is a common summer resident of southern and central New England and of the Hudson Valley, arriving in the first half of May, and occasionally lingering till late in September; it is less common in northern New England and is absent from the higher and heavily forested regions. It inhabits tangled thickets, plantations, and the edges of woodland, feeding on caterpillars in the thick foliage. In May, when the web-like nests of the tent-caterpillar are conspicuous in apple and wild cherrytrees, both species of cuckoo resort to them, and pick out the hairy caterpillars, which most birds eschew.

Black-billed cuckoo tail

Black-billed cuckoo tail

Each species of cuckoo has two sets of notes, which are very similar in tone and form. One consists of a series of notes like the syllables kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kyow-kyow-kyow. These the Black-billed introduces by a gurgling note; its notes, moreover, are more liquid, less wooden than those of the Yellow-billed. Besides these prolonged calls each species has a shorter call: that of the Black-billed sounds like the syllables kuk-kuk, or kuk-kuk-kuk, the double, triple, or sometimes quadruple combinations being repeated often many times; the corresponding notes of the Yellow-billed are single, low, dove-like notes, coo, coo, coo, coo.

The Black-billed Cuckoo, when seen at short range, may be distinguished by the black under mandible, by the rim of bare red skin about the eye, or by the small white tips on the dusky (not black) tail-feathers. It has a habit when alarmed or excited of raising its long tail slowly.


YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Coccyzus americanus
12.20 in.

Ad.— Upper parts brown; under parts white; lower mandible yellow, except the tip, which is black; tail long, rounded, the three outer blackish tail-feathers ending in large white spots; a broad area of cinnamon showing in the wings when the bird flies.

Nest, of sticks, loosely constructed, in a low tree or bush, or in a dense mass of vines. Eggs, pale greenish-blue.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a summer resident of New York and New England, rarely occurring beyond the northern boundary of Massachusetts. It arrives in the first half of May, and occasionally lingers late into September. In the hilly portion of central New England it is rare, occurring in Berkshire County only along the rivers and at the outlets of lakes. In eastern Massachusetts and about New York this and the preceding species are often equally common.

Yellow-billed cuckoo tail

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Tail

The haunts and habits of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo are similar to those of the preceding species. It slips quietly into the trees and then sits motionless, so that it is more often heard than seen. Its notes have been described under the preceding species.

To distinguish the Yellow-billed Cuckoo from the Blackbilled it is necessary to get near enough to see the large white spots on the tips of the blackish tail-feathers, or the yellow under mandible, or to catch, as the bird flies, the cinnamon in the wing.


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