Yesterday, in the middle of making millet burgers for dinner, I had an urgent call to check out a strange sound coming from a tree in front of the house. I heard a soft, distant “ku..ku..ku..ku…ku”. Strange indeed. I grabbed my binoculars, which are always at the ready by the door, and chased down the call as it moved from tree to tree along the road. Phishing and whistling to try and encourage the bird to check me out close up, I finally got a glimpse – and fell instantly in love – with the beautiful Yellow-billed Cuckoo!
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a slender and elegant version of a jay-sized bird. It has a distinctive long, slightly curved beak that is dark on top and yellow underneath. The cuckoo is gray in colour on its head and back with a pure white underside. A great give away are the big white spots on the underside of its black tail. And, of course just as its name suggest, it calls “Ku…ku…ku…ku…”.
They like to hang out near open woodlands gobbling vast quantities of caterpillars. Before swallowing them whole, Yellow-billed Cuckoos grind the caterpillars back and forth in their beaks, likely to remove those pesky unpalatable bristly hairs.
You may have heard that cuckoos are lazy parents, dumping their eggs in the nests of other birds. Well, it turns out that it’s not supper common. Yellow-billed Cuckoos actually build their own nests and raise their own babies. Ironically, sometimes their nests can be parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds which lay eggs in everybody’s nests! You might be amazed to know that cuckoo chicks grow at incredible speeds. At the end of their first week of life chicks have their feather shafts explode and the birds are fully feathered puff balls in 2 hours!! Poof!
We share these lovely birds with places like Brazil and Venezuela in South America, as they migrate back and forth during the year in search of warmth and caterpillars. I bet if you spot one you will take an instant liking to this long distance migrant. Enjoy them while they’re here!!
Posted by Ewa Bednarczuk