Species Fact Sheet Yellow-billed cuckoo Coccyzus americanus
Western population STATUS: Proposed Threatened
Yellow-billed cuckoo potentially occurs in these Oregon counties for the Western population
(Map may reflect historical as well as recent sightings)
The yellow-billed cuckoo in the western United States was accorded candidate status in July 2001. On October 3, 2013, the Western U.S. Distinct Population Segment of the Yellow-billed cuckoo was proposed as a threatened species under the ESA.
Historical Status and
Historically, the yellow-billed cuckoo bred throughout much of
North America. Available data suggests that within the last 50
years the species' distribution west of the Rocky Mountains has
declined substantially. Loss of streamside habitat is regarded
as the primary reason for the population decline. The species
was probably never common in Oregon. Historical records for the
state show that breeding cuckoos were most often sighted in willow
bottoms along the Willamette and Columbia Rivers; there are few
records of cuckoo sightings in eastern Oregon.
Western yellow-billed cuckoos breed in dense willow and cottonwood
stands in river floodplains.
Description and Life History
The yellow-billed cuckoo is a medium sized brown bird, about
12 inches long and weighing about two ounces. The bird's most notable
physical features are a long boldly patterned black and white
tail and an elongated down-curved bill which is yellow on the
bottom. Yellow-billed cuckoos are migratory; historically, cuckoos
arrived in Oregon in mid-May and flew south to their wintering
grounds in September. Although many species of cuckoos are brood
parasites (laying their eggs in other birds' nests), the yellow-billed
cuckoo usually builds its own nest and raises its own young. The
distinct call of the cuckoo has been described as sounding like
"cow, cow, cow, cow, cow, cow..." a series of clucks
that become slower and run down the scale at the end. The yellow-billed
cuckoo is sometimes called the raincrow or stormcrow, because
it often calls before a rainstorm.
The bird primarily eats large insects including caterpillars
and cicadas and, occasionally, small frogs and lizards.
Breeding coincides with the emergence of cicadas and tent caterpillar.
Reasons for Decline
Available data suggests that the yellow-billed cuckoo's range
and population numbers have declined substantially across much
of the western United States over the last 50 years. In Oregon,
cuckoos, although never common, have become even more rare with
the loss of floodplain forests along the Willamette and Columbia
Rivers. The last confirmed breeding records in Oregon were in
the 1940s. Most of the recent records of cuckoos are from eastern
Oregon at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney county, and
from Malheur and Deschutes counties.
The greatest threat to the species has been reported to be loss
of riparian habitat. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the
cuckoo's stream-side habitat has been lost. Habitat loss in the
west is attributed to agriculture, dams, and river flow management,
overgrazing and competition from exotic plants such as tamarisk.
In 1998, we received a petition to list the western yellow-billed
cuckoo as an endangered species. We concluded that the western
yellow-billed cuckoo is a distinct population segment (DPS) of
the yellow-billed cuckoo in North America. We determined that
the western yellow-billed cuckoo DPS was warranted for listing,
but was precluded by other higher priority listing actions, and
we placed the species on our candidate list. We will conduct an
annual review of the species' status, and may propose to list
the species at a later date. We will encourage state and federal
agencies as well as other parties to give consideration to the
species in environmental planning. Activities which alter or destroy
riparian habitat are of particular concern, including unmanaged
cattle grazing that contributes to the loss of sub-canopy vegetation
and cottonwood regeneration.
Links and References
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. 12-month finding for a
petition to list the yellow- billed cuckoo (Coccyzus
in the western continental United States. FR