Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Two Birds: I've Gone Cuckoo

I'm always looking for new ways to use Little Bird Nerd to teach others and share my love of birds. So, after recently finding my FOY (first of the year) Yellow-billed then Black-billed Cuckoos, I began comparing these birds in my head, which gave me an idea. I've decided to start a new series called Two Birds, where I will use my photos to compare two birds and talk about their similarities and differences. 

Hopefully my comparisons will give you new insights, help you with your ID skills, or just allow you to see two birds side by side. And since I am far from all-knowing, my comparisons just might compel you to teach me a lesson! So feel free to comment and add your own insights, which I will file away into my bird nerd bank. ;)

For my first Two Birds, I'm comparing the Black-billed Cuckoo (pictured left) with the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (pictured right).

Left to right: Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)
Black-billed Cuckoo:
  • Obvious red orbital ring
  • Smaller, less decurved black bill
  • Less contrasting color overall
  • Small, faint white tail spots
  • More slender overall 
  • Call a repetitive, one note "cu-cu-cu" (click here to listen)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo:
  • Less-obvious yellow orbital ring
  • Larger, more decurved mostly-yellow bill
  • Brighter coloration and contrast
  • Large, bright white tail spots
  • Slightly more bulky than Black-billed 
  • Call a more complex mix of metallic/wooden taps and rattles (click here to listen)
  • These are generally secretive birds, sitting motionless at times waiting to snatch their favorite meal- caterpillars!
  • Both birds are known to call before or during rainstorms, giving them the nickname "Rain Crows" (see Cornell's All About Birds website for more info). 
  • These birds have a similar range, though the Black-billed's extends a bit further north into Canada during summer; and the Yellow-billed's winter range is more extensive throughout South America. Both can be found in Michigan during summertime.
  • Both can be found in deciduous woods and near wet openings, especially near willows.

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