I followed the sounds and there it was: Perched on a branch about fifteen feet from the ground was a yellow-billed cuckoo. The tail feathers were long in relation to the sleek body, dark above and white below. The tail feathers had a pattern of white circles which reminded me of the spread feathers of a male peacock. Yes, the bill was yellow from below. Thank God for my Field Guide to Eastern Birds.
The yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccycus americana) is not a bird that you’ll see everyday. In fact, I’ve never seen or heard another since my Missouri Cuckoo experience. To be honest, I did not know that cuckoos were found in the U.S.
I remembered cuckoo clocks and, of course, thought of the hand-carved Black Forest cuckoo clock which hung in my mother’s front room, usually silent until someone remembered to set the weights correctly. The cuckoo sounds from the clocks of the same name, are supposed to mimic the song of “the common cuckoo,”Cuculus canorus, a separate genus of cuckoo found throughout Europe.
How often have you heard something like “That’s cuckoo!” or “What a kook!” Both statements refer to the goofy little bird which, on the hour, pokes out of a clock and flaps its wings while singing, “cu–cu, cu –cu,” something like the actual call of the common cuckoo found in Europe.
The name “cuckoo” has become an adjective meaning silly. However, when I hear the word, “cuckoo,” I remember that combination of rattles and moans which led me off the beaten path to the tree with the live cuckoo.
I wonder how many Americans have any idea that cuckoos are found in North America. The Yellow-Billed Cuckoo is just one of the three species of cuckoo which breed mostly in the Southern part of the united States. They winter in South America, especially in Argentina.
Check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for a great image and a sound clip of the vocalization of the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.