Yellow billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

Yellow-billed cuckoo

[order] Cuculiformes | [family] Cuculidae | [latin] Coccyzus americanus | [UK] Yellow-billed cuckoo | [FR] Coulicou a bec jaune | [DE] Gelbschnabelkuckuck | [ES] Cuclillo Piquigualdo | [IT] Cuculo americano | [NL] Geelsnavelkoekoek


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Yellow-billed cuckoos are medium birds (26 to 30 cm long; 55 to 65 g) with long tails. They have uniform greyish-brown plumage on their head and back, and dull white underparts. Their tails are long with two rows of four to six large white circles on the underside. The bill of yellow-billed cuckoos is short to medium in length and curved downward with a black upper mandible and a yellow or orange lower mandible. Yellow-billed cuckoos have zygodactylous feet, meaning that of the four toes, the middle two point forward and the outer two point backward.
Female yellow-billed cuckoos are slightly larger than males. Juveniles are similar in appearance to adults, but have a less distinct undertail pattern, and have cinnamon brown wing coverts.

Listen to the sound of Yellow-billed cuckoo

[audio: cuckoo.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 43 cm wingspan max.: 45 cm
size min.: 26 cm size max.: 30 cm
incubation min.: 9 days incubation max.: 11 days
fledging min.: 9 days fledging max.: 11 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 5  


Yellow-billed cuckoos are found in the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They breed throughout eastern North America, in southeast Canada, northern Mexico and the Greater Antilles. They winter primarily in South America (Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina).


Yellow-billed cuckoos prefer open woodlands with clearings and a dense shrub layer. They are often found in woodlands near streams, rivers or lakes. In North America, their preferred habitats include abandoned farmland, old fruit orchards, successional shrubland and dense thickets. In winter, yellow-billed cuckoos can be found in tropical habitats with similar structure, such as scrub forest and mangroves.


Yellow-billed cuckoos are probably monogamous, breeding pairs form in May or June, and pairs may visit prospective nest sites together before choosing a location. Males may attempt to procure or keep a mate by offering sticks and other nest materials to their mate as well as feeding them. Breeding starts in mid- to late-May. One brood per year, though some eastern populations may raise two broods in one breeding season. The male and female build the nest, which is made of twigs, lined with roots and dried leaves, and rimmed with pine needles. The female may begin laying eggs before nest construction is complete. She lays 1 to 5 (usually 2 or 3) light blue eggs, and begins incubating after the first egg is laid. Incubation is done by both parents, and lasts 9 to 11 days.
Yellow-billed cuckoo chicks are altricial at hatching, and are brooded often by the parents for the first week or so. Both parents feed the chicks, which begin to leave the nest 7 to 9 days after hatching. They begin to fly about 21 days after hatching. Soon thereafter they leave the nest for good. The male will usually take care of the first fledgling, and the female will care for the rest.
Some yellow-billed cuckoos may parasitize other birds by laying eggs in the nest of other parents. They may lay eggs in the nest of other yellow-billed cuckoos, or in the nests of other bird species, including black-billed cuckoos, American robins, grey catbirds and wood thrushes.

Feeding habits

Yellow-billed cuckoos primarily eat large insects including caterpillars (order Lepidoptera), katydids, cicadas (family Cicadidae), grasshoppers and crickets (order Orthoptera). They also occasionally eat bird eggs, snails, small vertebrates such as frogs (Order Anura) and lizards (suborder Sauria) and some fruits and seeds. Parents feed their chicks regurgitated insects.


This species has a large range, with an estimated global extent of occurrence of 5,300,000 km2. It has a large global population estimated to be 9,200,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2003). Global population trends have not been quantified; there is evidence of population fluctuations (del Hoyo et al. 1997), but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e., declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern
Yellow-billed cuckoo status Least Concern


Migratory, at night. Over-water flight in autumn of 2000-3000 km to West Indies, from where it moves further South, or 4000-km direct flight from breeding range to mainland of South America. Also migrates overland, where records in Panama September-November and April. Rare in South Florida in winter, seasonal in Greater Antilles, where not seen December-February. Northbound migrants appear in Florida through May and into June, and possible southbound migrants appear by early September. In Netherlands Antilles, main autumn passage mid October to early November. Winters in South America East of Andes, from Colombia and Venezuela to Brazil (Mato Grosso), Uruguay and North Argentina; rare in Central America, and in the Guianas occurs mainly during passage periods (October, November, April). Remains in spring as late as early June in Surinam. Transatlantic vagrant in autumn to Greenland, West Europe, Morocco, Azores.

Distribution map

Yellow-billed cuckoo range map


Title Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus):
A Technical Conservation Assessment
Author(s): David A. Wiggins
Abstract: In western North America, yellow-billed cuckoos (C..[more]..
Source: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region

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