Family: (Cuculidae) Cuckoos, Roadrunners, and Anis
Preferred Habitat: Moist woodlands and orchards.
Seasonal Occurrence: Uncommon spring and fall
Profile by Bryce Loschen: Black-billed Cuckoos are elusive forest skulkers found throughout the woodlands of the eastern United States. These slender long-tailed birds are plain brown above and white below with a red ring around the eye and a longer partially curved black bill. Black-billed Cuckoos can be distinguished from the similar Yellow-billed Cuckoo by bill color. Black-billed Cuckoos also have small white tips on the tail feathers as opposed to big white spots on the Yellow-billed Cuckoos.
Black-billed Cuckoos are birds of woodlands and thicket, and they often frequent larger and denser woodlands than the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Black-billed Cuckoos eat a variety of insects but specialize on caterpillars. They eat lots of spiny caterpillars, and will periodically shed their stomach lining, coughing it up in one giant pellet, similar to an owl, to remove the spines. Black-billed Cuckoos sometimes participate in nest parasitism, where they will lay eggs in nests of other birds such as Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and let those birds raise their chicks. However Black-billed Cuckoos more often build their own nests in shrubs or low trees and raise their own chicks.
Black-billed Cuckoos pass through the Upper Texas Coast during migration on their way to breeding grounds further north. They are often difficult to find because they are secretive and rarely vocalize outside of their breeding territory. Some Black-billed Cuckoos, as well as their Yellow-billed cousins, are starting to pass through during the spring migration, so come on down to Houston Audubon’s High Island Sanctuaries to look for one!
Comments by Don Verser: If juvenile without red orbital ring, note smaller less contrasting undertail spots and amount of rufous in primaries in addition to all black bill.