Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Look at the Cuckoos of The United States

In the US we have 6 native species of Cuckoo (Order CUCULIFORMES, family Cuculidae). Unlike Old World Cuckoos, most of our species do not practice brood parasitism (laying one's egg in another species nest, so that the other bird will raise the young). Lets have a look at this active group of birds

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

Found throughout the Southwestern and south central U.S. in mostly arid and scrubby habitat

Roadrunners spend a great deal of time on the ground, but may perch in low branches.

Roadrunners do not, in fact, make a "meep meep" call, but instead make a descending dove like coo.

The Greater Roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico, there is also a Mexican species called the Lesser Roadrunner. They are related closely to several species of Ground Cuckoos found through out Latin America.

Roadrunners are rather expressive birds, using the long tail and crest in body language. They are about 2 feet long.

They prey mostly on small reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and large invertebrates.

It is not uncommon to find Roadrunners tackling dangerous prey, like this Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is found throughout the Eastern and Central parts of the U.S.

Historically referred to as the Rain Crow in the SE U.S.

The distinctive yellow eye ring and yellow lower bill of the adult

Another distinguishing marker is the spotted undertail of the adult

Insects make up the greatest part of their diet.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos will raise their own young in their own nests (as seen here), but sometimes may lay their eggs in the nests of Black-billed Cuckoos or other Yellow-bills.

Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)

The fully black bill and red eye ring distinctive of the adult Black-bill

Black-billed Cuckoos are found throughout the Northeastern and North Central parts of the U.S.

The tail is not boldly patterned as that of the Yellow-billed and Mangrove Cuckoos.

Like their aforementioned relative, they feed mainly on insects and their larvae.

Black-billed Cuckoos are known to rarely lay their eggs in the nests of other Black-billed.

Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor)

Blogger is acting up, so I'll have to add these pictures later.

Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris)

The Groove-billed Ani is a neotropical bird, found through Central and South America, that only comes into the United States in the Rio Grande Valley and the Gulf Coast (in winter) of Texas.

The Groove-billed is about a foot long as an adult.

Anis prefer open areas, where they feed on a variety of insects, fruits, and seeds.

One of the distinctive marks or the Groove-billed... the, uh, grooves in the bill, which are only visible close up.

Anis are gregarious birds, and live in groups of breeding pairs. The group shares a nest, where all the eggs are laid, and they all take part in the rearing of the young.

Sunning on cold mornings is a common activity amongst the Anis.

A Groove-billed Ani suns itself on a Prickly Pear cactus in South Texas.

Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)

Smooth-billed Anis are tropical birds, distributed throughout The Caribbean Islands, Central and South America. They are only found in the United States in Southern Florida, where their numbers have greatly declined.

The Smooth-billed has a larger, usually ungrooved, bill than the very similar looking Groove-billed Ani.

Preferring open areas, like farmers fields and open scrub, Smooth-billed Anis have actually benefited from the deforestation in Latin America.

As with other Anis, they eat a wide variety of plant and small animal items. They often feed on the ground, and actually run quite well.

Just like the Groove-billed, they often sun themselves to warm up and possibly to help drive away parasites. This activity is sometimes called "sun anting", because of the similar activity of some birds who spread their wings and feathers in the presence of ants (which remove parasites from the birds).

Also like the Groove-billed in their shared nests, in which they all incubate the eggs and raise the young as a group. They often gather in rather large noisy congregations.

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