My first photo was terrible, yet diagnostic for reporting purposes. I finally caught it on May 29 as it peeked out from behind the dense foliage:
My initial open shot was on May 31, when one called from the branches of a dead tree not far away. It was badly back-lit. Note its yellow bill and the six distinctive white spots under its long tail:
On June 1 I snapped a couple of poor photos from far away as it appeared briefly and then launched into flight. We have only two cuckoo species in the USA, the Yellow-billed and the Black-billed Cuckoo. The second photo illustrates the chestnut reddish brown flight feathers which also distinguish it from the Black-billed species:
On June 4 I followed one along a row of trees until finally getting a rather distant shot. Luckily, the sunlight was nearly perfect to show off its wing feathers:
Look closely at its toes and see that, like all cuckoos (as well as owls and woodpeckers), it has zygodactyl feet, with two toes pointing forward and two to the back:
Our cuckoos are related to the European Common Cuckoo which is an obligate brood parasite, meaning that it must lay its eggs in the nests of other species in order to reproduce. Both of the New World cuckoos are facultative brood parasites which sometimes do this but mainly build and tend their own nests and eggs.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos are declining in number, especially those in the western US which are classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They no longer breed in British Columbia, and the California population of breeding pairs has declined from 15,000 to only about 40 pairs in less than a century.
My first encounter with the Yellow-billed Cuckoo was as a kid in New Jersey. I saw it eating tent caterpillars and later found its nest. It contained eggs, which I photographed with a Brownie box camera and waited anxiously for the roll of film to be developed. They were out of focus and I cannot remember whatever came of them.
These are photos of the Black-billed Cuckoo which I took in NE Illinois in May, 2011:
This is the trail along the canal where I have seen the cuckoos, just after sunrise on June 6:
Note the storm clouds on the horizon. We have settled into the summer pattern of hot and humid mornings followed by afternoon showers and thunderstorms. Cuckoos have been called "rain crows" as they are said to be more vocal on cloudy days. Indeed, this was the scene from our back yard on June 3, one of the days I heard it calling:
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