THE OUTDOOR JOURNAL by Kyle Carroll
One of the last tropical migrants to return each year to the woods in North Missouri is the Yellow Billed Cuckoo, sometimes called the “rain crow.”
You almost always hear a Cuckoo before you see them, if you see them at all.
Cornell says its because, “ Yellow-billed Cuckoos are slender, long-tailed birds that manage to stay well hidden in deciduous woodlands. They usually sit stock still, even hunching their shoulders to conceal their crisp white underpart as they hunt for large caterpillars. Bold white spots on the tail’s underside are often the most visible feature on a shaded perch. Fortunately, their drawn-out, knocking call is very distinctive. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are fairly common in the East but have become rare in the West in the last half-century.”
Yellow-Billed Cuckoos have a primal-sounding, croaking call that they often give in response to loud noises. Their tendency to call at the sound of thunder has led to their colloquial name, the “rain crow.”
Cuckoo's have another unusual trait as well. They practice “Asynchronous egg laying,” meaning they don't lay all their eggs at once, then sit and hatch all the chicks at once. Instead, “ the period between one egg to the next can stretch to as long as five days. This “asynchronous” egg laying means the oldest chick can be close to leaving the nest when the youngest is just hatching. When food is in short supply, the male may remove the youngest bird from the nest, though unlike their relative the Greater Roadrunner, they don’t feed them to the older siblings.” Cornell University, All about birds.
Rain Crows arrive late because their main food supply, caterpillars, needs time to develop. Once here, they can produce young quickly. From the start of incubation to fledging can take as little as 17 days for a Cuckoo. Although born naked, the young birds develop quickly; within a week of hatching the chicks are fully feathered and ready to leave the nest.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo populations declined by about 52% between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Look and listen for these birds in thick woodlands with access to water. You can listen to the cuckoo’s call and see much more at www.allaboutbirds.org
Sometimes you get lucky. Last week I had a rain crow call back to me after several pumps on my pump up garden sprayer made a similar sound to their gulping woodland calls.