Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoos don’t begin to breed until local food supplies—caterpillars and/or cicadas—are abundant. Cuckoos build flimsy nests. Once begun, the breeding cycle is rapid—only 17 days from egg-laying to fledging. But the story is even stranger, as both Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos are North America’s only altricial “facultative, interspecific brood parasites.” (Cowbirds are obligatory brood parasites.) Sometimes they lay their eggs in other species’ nests—usually robins, catbirds, and Wood Thrushes (and, occasionally, eight others).  The biology of this parasitism is not understood. The cuckoos may time extra egg production with abundant food and may choose their hosts so that their egg color matches the host eggs. Finally, Yellow-billed Cuckoos have nested cooperatively, with three or four adults occupying a single nest (Hughes 1999).

A folk name for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is Rain Crow. Cuckoos may call most frequently on cloudy days, but their ability to predict rainfall in unproven. 

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