Mangrove Cuckoo

Coccyzus minor
Cuckoo w Credit


The mangrove cuckoo is an elusive tropical bird that primarily inhabits mangrove forests of the South Florida coast. From its lifestyle to ecosystem needs, many characteristics of this bird have long been a mystery. Continue reading to learn why the mangrove cuckoo has historically been so mysterious, what recent research has taught us about this bird, and how National Wildlife Refuges in Florida are participating in research that continues to unravel secrets of the mangrove cuckoo. 

Species Characteristics

The mangrove cuckoo is a medium-sized bird, reaching typical sizes of one foot (30.5cm) long with a wingspan of 17 inches (43.2cm). This bird has brown-gray wings, dull brown-gray back, and a long tail with three large white spots dotting its edges. Aside from its distinct tail markings, the mangrove cuckoo is most easily recognized by a black face mask, two-toned bill with black coloring atop and yellow lower mandible, and bright underside colored with buff.

The mangrove cuckoo can be found throughout the Caribbean Islands and coastlines of Mexico and Central America. Less commonly, the mangrove cuckoo inhabits coastal South Florida and parts of South America. In Florida, this bird species is most common throughout the Keys and along the Gulf of Mexico coastline north to Marco Island. 


These birds are most frequently found in dense mangrove forest systems. Mangrove cuckoos may also inhabit lowland scrub and tropical forests. In the state of Florida, mangrove cuckoos are most commonly encountered among black and red mangroves. 

Mangrove cuckoos not only inhabit dense vegetation, but they are also very still and very quiet. While many bird species found foraging in the treetops are constantly flying with quick motion, the mangrove cuckoo is known to sit in one spot for long periods of time as only the head is moved to spot prey. This bird rarely vocalizes, especially during winter months. These species characteristics make the mangrove cuckoo both difficult to see and hear, thus resulting in a secretive bird that of which little is known.


Since 2012, the EcoStudies Institute and JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge have collaborated on the unprecedented Mangrove Cuckoo Project. Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge has also been a site for this research, with biologists participating in mangrove cuckoo surveys.

Researchers with the EcoStudies Institute capture, band, radio-tag, and use telemetry to track mangrove cuckoos. Their work is complemented by callback density surveys of the species in mangrove systems such as that of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. These research efforts provide valuable insight into mangrove cuckoo habitat requirements, seasonal movements, and breeding behaviors. Information gathered from this work not only answers major questions about basic mangrove cuckoo characteristics, but also informs future efforts to conserve this bird and its habitat. 

Learn more about the mangrove cuckoo and mangrove ecosystems with this fact sheet from the EcoStudies Institute.


Audobon. 2014. Birds, Mangrove Cuckoo. Retrieved from:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2014. Bird Guide, Mangrove Cuckoo. Retrieved from:

EcoStudies Institute. 2014. Mangrove Cuckoo Project. Retrieved from:

Lloyd, J. D. 2014. Ecology and seasonal movements of Mangrove Cuckoo: Annual Report to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved from:

Facts About Mangrove Cuckoo

See the "Research" section of this profile to find out how we're learning more about this elusive bird!