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Where Do Cuckoos Get Their Reputation??

Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Pawpaw Tree, by John James Audubon, accession number 1863.17.002.
©Collection of The New-York Historical Society, nyhistory.org

CUCKOOS LIVE ALL OVER THE WORLD, and have been recognized since Biblical times and Aristotle. The American Cuckoo, however, is quite different from the European — in size, color, habits and disposition. 1 They build their own nests and rear their young. Their calls, variously described as a "cluck" or "kow, kow" did not inspire European clocks. In point of fact, their call gave rise to their nickname "Rain Crow" because of the belief among American farmers that their cry predicts rain.

Are they odd? In one respect, but no more than a computer nerd: "In his manner the Cuckoo gives the impression of being deeply preoccupied and quite absentminded. He slips in and out of trees like a ghost. Upon first alighting, he looks about him as if he were dazed, but almost immediately recovers himself and proceeds to search for his preferred fare of "tent" caterpillars of which he destroys great numbers, thereby placing himself in the category of highly useful birds." 2

The American Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, pictured here, is almost 11 to 12 inches in length, and, as an insectivore, migrates to the West Indies, Central and South America in the Winter for food. 3 They are a boon to orchard crops.

  1. T. Gilbert Pearson, editor-in-chief. Birds of America. (Garden City, New York.:Garden City Publishing Company, Inc. 1917 & 1936). p. 129.
  2. Ibid. p. 130.
  3. Ibid. p. 128.
 


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