Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


 Rolf Nussbaumer / NPL / Minden Pictures


Yellow-billed cuckoo during a Coastal Bend rainstorm.

Wild Thing

Rain Crow

Just before and during a storm, listen for the yellow-billed cuckoo.

The yellow-billed cuckoo is a summertime resident of Texas arriving from South America around mid-April and departing in October. They are shy birds, often hidden while remaining motionless among the foliage of trees and dense shrubs.

If you happen to catch a glimpse of one you will notice a long, slender bird with a brown head and back, accented by a white chin and belly. The bill curves slightly downward, with a black upper bill and the yellow lower bill that gives this bird its name. White spots dot the underside of the bird’s long tail.

You’re likely to hear a yellow-billed cuckoo before spotting one. They have a distinct call: Ka, ka, ka, ka, ka, kow, kow, kow, kowlp, kowlp! Sometimes, you’ll hear a series of low cuks. The species has earned the nickname “rain crow” or “storm crow” because they often call just before a rain and will continue to call during the rain.

Yellow-billed cuckoos prefer to forage on caterpillars and cicadas. In fact, they are one of only a few bird species that can eat hairy caterpillars, and they are known to feast on pesky tent caterpillars. These birds also dine on snails, small vertebrates and fruit.

The birds will typically lay two to four pale blue eggs in a nest, but when food is plentiful, they’ll lay more eggs, sometimes in the nests of other birds. Young birds start out quickly, with a short nesting cycle; the start of incubation to fledging can take as little as 17 days.

The yellow-billed cuckoo ranges throughout North, Central and South America. Although the species is still considered common in eastern North America, populations are now increasingly rare throughout much of the West.

These sharp declines are likely due to habitat loss as the bird’s riparian habitat is being converted to farmland and housing developments.

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