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Posts Tagged ‘Coccyzus americanus’

I was quite shocked when I spotted this Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) with a frog in its mouth on this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I first spotted the bird, it was mostly hidden in the foliage of the tree, but I could clearly see the dangling frog. I stopped in my tracks, quickly adjusted the settings on my camera, and took some shots. When I moved slightly to the side to try to get a better angle, alas, the bird detected my presence and flew away with its prey.

I had no idea that a bird like a cuckoo would consume a frog. Wow! According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Caterpillars top the list of Yellow-Billed Cuckoo prey: individual cuckoos eat thousands of caterpillars per season. On the East coast, periodic outbreaks of tent caterpillars draw cuckoos to the tentlike webs, where they may eat as many as 100 caterpillars at a sitting. Fall webworms and the larvae of spongy (formerly gypsy), brown-tailed, and white-marked tussock moths are also part of the cuckoo’s lepidopteran diet, often supplemented with beetles, ants, and spiders. They also take advantage of the annual outbreaks of cicadas, katydids, and crickets, and will hop to the ground to chase frogs and lizards. In summer and fall, cuckoos forage on small wild fruits, including elderberries, blackberries and wild grapes. In winter, fruit and seeds become a larger part of the diet.”

I love to capture images like this one. No how many times I visit a familiar location, there always seems to be something new to see.  My favorite encounters most often seem to occur when I am by myself and moving slowly, immersed in the natural world. Fortunately I am quick to react with my camera, for these moments tend to be ephemeral and fleeting.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always shocked by the length of the tails of Yellow-billed Cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus), like this one that I spotted on Friday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is pretty rare for me to get an almost unobstructed view of a cuckoo—usually they either fly away as I approach or are hidden in the foliage.

In the second shot, the cuckoo had shifted its body and the the new perspective has the effect of making the tail look a bit shorter and the body a bit chunkier.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I was growing up, my parents had a carved wood cuckoo clock from Germany. The bird that popped out of the clock, however, looked nothing like the Yellow-billed Cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) that I spotted this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. More significantly, the cuckoos that I saw did not make the familiar cuckoo sound that was part of my childhood.

When I did a little research, I learned that the cuckoo family is quite large and spread out all over the world and that the Yellow-billed Cuckoo belongs to a different subfamily from the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) from Europe. That cuckoo is the one that makes the cuckoo sound used in all of those clocks.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When a scope-toting birder told me that there was a cuckoo in a tree in the distance, I had not idea what to look for. My parents had a German cuckoo clock when I was growing up and somehow I thought the cuckoo would look like the little bird that popped out of the clock each hour.

I could see the white breast of the bird, so I pointed my telephoto lens at the tree and focused as well as I could. I had to crop quite a bit, but the bird I photographed is definitely identifiable as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). What shocked me the most was the length of the bird’s tail. According to my birding guide, this cuckoo is about 12 inches (30 cm) in length.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these birds like to eat large quantities of hairy caterpillars. Those readers who follow my blog know well that there have been lots of hairy caterpillars recently at my local marsh, so it makes a lot of sense that these birds would be present.

The background in the image is cluttered, but I like the bright colors of the autumn leaves, so I am not bothered by it, particularly because they do not conceal very much of the cuckoo.

cuckoo_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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