Birds – Black-billed Cuckoo

(Coccyzus erythrophthalmus)

Called also : RAIN CROW

Length— 11 to 12 inches. About one-fifth larger than the robin.

Male—Grayish brown above, with bronze tint in feathers. Un-. derneath grayish white ; bill, which is long as head and black, arched and acute. Skin about the eye bright red. Tail long, and with spots on tips of quills that are small and inconspicuous.

Female—Has obscure dusky bars on the tail. Range—Labrador to Panama; westward to Rocky Mountains.

Migrations—May. September. Summer resident.

” 0 cuckoo ! shall I call thee bird ? Or but a wandering voice?”

From the tangled shrubbery on the hillside back of Dove Cottage, Keswick, where Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy listened for the coming of this “darling of the spring” ; in the willows overhanging Shakespeare’s Avon ; from the favorite haunts of Chaucer and Spenser, where

” Runneth meade and springeth blede,”

we hear the cuckoo calling ; but how many on this side of the Atlantic are familiar with its American counterpart ? Here, too, the cuckoo delights in running water and damp, cloudy weather like that of an English spring; it haunts the willows by our river-sides, where as yet no “immortal bard ” arises to give it fame. It “loud sings ” in our shrubbery, too. Indeed, if we cannot study our bird afield, the next best place to become acquainted with it is in the pages of the English poets. But due allowance must be made for differences of temperament. Our cuckoo is scarcely a “merry harbinger” ; his talents, such as they are, certainly are not musical. However, the guttural cluck is not discordant, and the black-billed species, at least, has a soft, mellow voice that seems to indicate an embryonic songster. ” K-k-k-k, how-howow-how-ow I” is a familiar sound in many localities, but the large, slim, pigeon-shaped, brownish-olive bird that makes it, securely hidden in the low trees and shrubs that are its haunts, is not often personally known. Catching a glimpse only of the grayish-white under parts from where we stand looking up into the tree at it, it is quite impossible to tell the bird from the yellow-billed species. When, as it flies about, we are able to note the red circles about its eyes, its black bill, and the absence of black tail feathers, with their white “thumb-nail” spots, and see no bright cinnamon feathers on the wings (the yellow-billed specie’s distinguishing marks), we can at last claim acquaintance with the black-billed cuckoo. Our two common cuckoos are so nearly alike that they are constantly confused in the popular mind and very often in the writings of ornithologists. At first glance the birds look alike. Their haunts are almost identical ; their habits are the same ; and, as they usually keep well out of sight, it is not surprising if confusion arise.

Neither cuckoo knows how to build a proper home; a bunch of sticks dropped carelessly into the bush, where the hapless babies that emerge from the greenish eggs will not have far to fall when they tumble out of bed, as they must inevitably do, may by courtesy only be called a nest. The cuckoo is said to suck the eggs of other birds ; but, surely, such vice is only the rarest dissipation. Insects of many kinds and “tent caterpillars” chiefly are their chosen food.