Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Scientific name: Coccyzus Americanus
Classification: Bird
Size: Body length - about 11 inches, Weight - about 65 grams



The upper parts are grayish brown, lower parts white, and the body is slender with a long tail. The underside of the tail is black with white at the base of each tail feather, forming conspicuous white spots on a black background. Rufous colored shading is visible on the center of the primaries. The lower part of the slightly curved bill is yellow while the upper part is black, and the eye ring is yellow.



Yellow-billed cuckoos live in cottonwood and willow riparian and other woodland habitats and prefer dense under-stories in Nevada.




The breeding range extends from southern Canada south to Mexico. The birds winter further south to Argentina. Yellow-billed cuckoos have been found mainly in the western and southern portions of Nevada.


Natural history:

The yellow-billed cuckoo is a diurnal, migratory bird. It is difficult to view yellow-billed cuckoos in the wild due to their generally secretive behavior.


Food habits:

Yellow-billed cuckoos eat mainly large invertebrates including grasshoppers, caterpillars, cicadas, and other insects. Small frogs and lizards, bird eggs, seeds, and fruits are also sometimes eaten. The cuckoos generally glean from tree parts or catch food in the air.



Breeding occurs in spring or early summer when food is abundant. The nest is usually well hidden in a tree or shrub at about 3 to 20 feet above ground. 1 to 5 eggs are laid and incubated for 9 to 11 days by both parents (mainly the male at night). The young are cared for by both parents and fledge in about 7 to 9 days. Two and occasionally three clutches may be laid in years with abundant prey.



Yellow-billed cuckoos are very rare in Nevada. They are a candidate species for listing as “endangered” under the federal endangered species act. Also, the yellow-billed cuckoo receives federal and state protection under the migratory bird treaty act.


Reason for status:

Numbers of yellow-billed cuckoos are declining in western North America due to loss, degradation, and fragmentation of riparian habitat, drought, predation, pesticide accumulation and impacts on prey, and deforestation in their tropical winter habitat.


Management & conservation:

Preservation, restoration and expansion of riparian habitat supporting large cottonwood and willow trees are essential to the conservation of yellow-billed cuckoos. Biologists are working with landowners regarding land management practices that impact yellow-billed cuckoo habitat, as much of this habitat in Nevada is found on private land. Breeding season surveys are being conducted by the Nevada department of wildlife yearly to determine distribution and abundance of yellow-billed cuckoos in southern Nevada. Further surveys are needed in other areas of Nevada, in particular, western Nevada.


Fun facts:

  • Unmated yellow-billed cuckoos will say their own name during their soft, coo call in which they repeat “coo-coo-coo-coo.”
  • Yellow-billed cuckoos are unique in that they have zygodactyl feet, two toes facing forward and two toes backward.