Distribution and Abundance
- BBS Map
- Breeding range across temperate North America: north-central and northeastern United
States and south-central and southeastern Canada.
- Historically, this species experienced a range expansion northward into
northern New York following human occupation as conversion of primeval forest
to agricultural land produced suitable edge habitat; fairly common summer
resident by the 1900s (Eaton 1988). Similar northward expansion in Quebec,
Ontario, and Maritime Provinces (Jauvin and Bombardier 1996). However,
subsequent establishment of unsuitable coniferous habitat on land previously
cleared for agriculture has had contrary effect in some regions (Erskine
- Densities vary greatly from year to year when peak numbers are recruited to
regions of insect outbreaks (Nolan and Thompson 1975, Jauvin and Bombardier
1996). Local estimates made over short period should be assessed with caution.
Density frequently underestimated due to quiet demeanor and skulking
- Winters in South America - distribution poorly known.
- Prefers groves of trees, forest edges, and thickets; frequently associated
- In the Midwest, occurs most frequently in shrub uplands and wetlands
(Eastman 1991); also parks, farm groves, and successional vegetation (Hemesath
1992). In Wisconsin, occurs in deciduous forest and shrubby wetlands (Robbins
1991). Of 679 observations in Wisconsin from 1995-2000, 35.6% were in upland
shrub habitats (both pure hardwood and mixed hardwood-coniferous), 25% in
upland hardwood forest, and 13.8% in lowland hardwood shrub (WSO 2002).
In Michigan, of survey observations from 1983-1988, peak nesting habitats for this species
were shrub uplands and wetlands (Eastman 1991). In northeastern Ohio, prefers aspen thickets near swamps
Rice 1991). In Missouri, occurs most frequently in willows that border marshes
and ponds (Robbins and Easterla 1992). In northern Great Plains, found in
forest and open woodlands of all types, generally at low elevations (Dobkin
- In eastern Canada and northeastern U.S., usually found in edges and
clearings of young deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous woods; abandoned
farmland with trembling aspen, poplar, and birch; brushy hillsides and
pastures, roadsides, and fencerows; orchards and berry patches; hawthorn
thickets; also in wet areas, often among willows near edges of bogs and
marshes (Peck and James 1983, Pistorius 1985, Eaton 1988).
- Nest site generally in groves of trees, forest edges, and thickets;
sometimes associated with streams and marshes. Nest usually concealed by
leaves and branches of nesting tree, thick bushes, or tangles of vines. In
Michigan, nests found in clumps of beech saplings, eastern white pine, eastern
hemlock, sugar maple and poplars (Spencer 1943). Willow thickets used in
Wisconsin (Robbins 1991). Hawthorn thickets and American elm used in Indiana
(Nolan 1963). In Ontario, 119 nests in deciduous saplings and trees including
hawthorn, willow, and apple; 68 nests in coniferous trees, including pine; and
44 nests in shrubs and bushes (Peck and James 1983).
- During migration through Florida, frequents wooded areas and dense thickets
(Stevenson and Anderson 1994). In Texas, occurs in woodlands, particularly
along streams and ponds, dense borders of meadows and margins of forests, also
groves and thickets of coastal prairies.
- On wintering grounds in Venezuela, occurs in semiopen woodlands and scrub,
humid forest, and second growth primarily in lowlands (Meyer de Schauensee and
Phelps 1978). Occurs in arid tropical forest in west Peru and humid tropical
forest in east Peru (Parker et al. 1982).
- Diet primarily large insects, favoring caterpillars when available.
Caterpillar hairs form furry mat in cuckoo's stomach; regurgitated in a pellet
when mass obstructs digestion (Forbush and May 1939).
- Skulky behavior when perched; seldom perches in the open. Slips quietly
through thickets. Difficult to locate visually unless calling (Jauvin and
- Little information on territoriality or mating system. Probably territorial,
as is Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Hughes 1999) and probably monogamous. Solitary
during breeding season; observed alone or in pairs.
- Four observations of conflict between Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos
feeding on caterpillars; Black-billed more aggressive (Bender 1961). However,
Black-billed Cuckoos observed being chased by Eastern Kingbird, Eastern
Bluebird, and American Robin (Forbush 1907).
- May associate with other species during migration (James and Neal 1986) or
on wintering grounds (Munn 1985).
Parasitism and Predation
- The Black-billed Cuckoo is an intraspecific brood parasite that occasionally
lays eggs in other Black-billed Cuckoo nests. Parasitism recognized by
unusually large clutches, eggs appearing after clutch is complete, and
irregular laying intervals (Hughes 1997). An occasional interspecific brood
parasite as well. Known to parasitize at least 11 other bird species; most
frequent hosts are Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chipping Sparrow, American Robin,
Gray Catbird and Wood Thrush. Other reported hosts include Eastern Wood-Pewee,
Veery, Yellow Warbler (Roberts 1932), Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal
(Herrick 1910) and Yellow-breasted Chat (Thomas 1995).
- Some evidence for egg mimicry; 75% of reported interspecific cases involve
matching host eggs. In addition, most frequently used hosts lay blue-green
eggs as does the Black-billed Cuckoo, suggesting that eggs are not laid in
host nests randomly (Hughes 1997).
- Rare host of Brown-headed Cowbird (Friedmann et al. 1977). One nest of 218
in Ontario contained cowbird egg (Peck and James 1983). More frequently, a
host to Yellow-billed Cuckoo - two nests in Ontario survey (Peck and James
1983) and three of nine nests in Indiana
parasitized by Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Nolan and Thompson 1975).
- Adults occasionally predated by raptors (Storer 1966). Eggs and chicks taken by
(Nolan and Thompson 1975); young probably also consumed by snakes and mammals
Conservation and Management
- Likely susceptible to pesticide-residue accumulation due to reliance on
noxious caterpillars. Large numbers may have been poisoned by eating
caterpillars sprayed with arsenical pesticides in Nova Scotia orchards (Tufts
- Frequently killed by flying into television towers, airport ceilometers and
tall buildings during nocturnal migration (Howell et al. 1954, Crawford and
Stevenson 1984, Kemper 1996).
- May be susceptible to habitat fragmentation. In Saskatchewan, abundance
correlated with grove size; not found in aspen groves smaller than 1.2 ha.
In central New Jersey, observed only on forest plots from 7.5 to 24 ha in
size; absent from plots less than 4 ha (Galli et al. 1976). In eastern South
Dakota, presence correlated with fragment area and length; not found in
fragments less than 4.5 km2 (Martin 1981).
- Listed as High Priority concern on Audubon WatchLists for 16 states.
WatchLists indicate declining local bird populations based on global
abundance, breeding and winter distribution, threats on breeding and wintering
grounds, importance of area under consideration to species, and population
trend (Bonney et al. 1999).
- BBS trend results from 1966-2000 (Sauer et al. 2001) in the Northern Spruce-Hardwoods region indicate
the Black-billed Cuckoo population has decreased in this
region (-1.3, p=0.10 Trend
Graph S28); this species may also be decreasing in the Great Lakes Transition
region (-0.8, p=0.57 Trend
Graph S20). Survey-wide (US and Canada), this species has shown a significant decrease
(-1.9, p=0.00 Trend
For more information about the conservation and management of the Black-billed
Cuckoo, please see the Species
Management Abstract, from the Conserve
Online public library, maintained by The Nature Conservancy.
This species account is based on: Hughes, J.M. 2001. Black-billed Cuckoo. In The Birds of North America, No.
587 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The
Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists'
Union, Washington, DC.
- Bender, R.O. 1961. Food competition among closely related sympatric species.
Wilson Bull. 73:214.
- Bonney, R., D.N. Pashley, R. Cooper, and L. Niles, eds. 1999. Strategies for
bird conservation: the Partners in Flight Planning Process. Cornell Lab of
Ornithol., Ithaca, NY.
- Crawford, R.L. and H.M. Stevenson. 1984. Patterns of spring and fall
migration in northwest Florida. J. Field. Ornithol. 55:196-203.
- Dobkin, D.S. 1994. Conservation and management of Neotropical migrant
landbirds of the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. Univ. of Idaho Press,
- Eastman, J. 1991. Black-billed Cuckoo. Pp. 232-233 in The atlas of breeding
birds of Michigan (R. Brewer, G.A. McPeek, and R.J. Adams, Jr. eds.). Michigan
State Univ. Press, East Lansing.
- Eaton, S.W. 1988. Black-billed Cuckoo. Pp. 196-197 in The atlas of breeding
birds in New York State (R.F. Andrle and J.R. Carroll, eds.). Cornell Univ.
Press, Ithaca, NY.
- Erskine, A.J. 1992. Atlas of breeding birds of the Maritime Provinces.
Nimbus Publ. and Nova Scotia Mus., Halifax.
- Forbush, E.H. 1907. Useful birds and their protection. Massachusetts State
Board of Agric., Boston.
- Forbush, E.H. and J.B. May. 1939. Natural history of the birds of eastern
and central North America. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA.
- Friedmann, H., L.F. Kiff and S.I. Rothstein. 1977. A further contribution to
knowledge of the host relations of the parasitic cowbirds. Smithson. Contr.
Zool. 235, Washington, D.C.
- Galli, A.E., C.F. Leck and R.T.T. Forman. 1976. Avian distribution patterns
in forest islands of different sizes in central New Jersey. Auk 93:356-364.
- Hemesath, L. 1992. Black-billed Cuckoo. Pp. 198-199 in Atlas of the breeding
birds of Ontario (M.D. Cadman, P.F.J. Eagles, and F.M. Helleiner, eds.). Univ.
of Iowa Press, Iowa City.
- Herrick, F.H. 1910. Life and behavior of the cuckoo. J. Exp. Zool.
- Howell, J.C., A.R. Laskey, and J.T. Tanner. 1954. Bird mortality at airport
ceilometers. Wilson Bull. 66:207-215.
- Hughes, J.M. 1997. Taxonomic significance of host-egg mimicry by facultative
brood parasites of the avian genus Cuculidae. Can. J. Zool. 75:1380-1386.
- Hughes, J.M. 1999. Yellow-billed Cuckoo. In The birds of North America, no.
418 (A. Poole and F.Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc.,
- James, D.A. and J.C. Neal. 1986. Arkansas birds: their distribution and
abundance. Univ. of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville.
- Jauvin, D. and M. Bombardier. 1996. Black-billed Cuckoo. Pp. 578-581 in The
breeding birds of Quebec: atlas of breeding birds of southern Quebec (J.
Gauthier and Y. Aubry, eds.). Prov. of Quebec Soc. for the protection of
birds, Can. Wildl. Serv., Environ. Canada, Montreal.
- Kemper, C. 1996. A study of bird mortality at a west central Wisconsin TV
tower from 1957-1995. Passenger Pigeon 58:219-235.
- Martin, T.E. 1981. Limitation in small habitat islands: chance or
competition? Auk 98:715-734.
- Meyer de Schauensee, R. and W.H. Phelps, Jr. 1978. A guide to the birds of
Venezuela. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ.
- Munn, C.A. 1985. Permanent canopy and understory flocks in Amazonia: species
composition and population density. Pp. 683-712 in Neotropical ornithology
(P.A. Buckley, M.S. Foster, E.S. Morton, R.S. Ridgely, and F.C. Buckley,
eds.). Ornithol. Monogr. no. 36.
- Nolan, V., Jr.1963. Reproductive success of birds in a deciduous scrub
habitat. Ecology 44:305-313.
- Nolan, V., Jr., and C.F. Thompson. 1975. The occurrence and significance of
anomalous reproductive activities in two North American nonparasitic cuckoos.
- Parker, T.A., S.A. Parker, and M.A. Plenge. 1982. An annotated checklist of
Peruvian birds. Buteo Books, Vermillion, SD.
- Peck, G. and R. James. 1983. Breeding birds of Ontario: nidiology and
distribution. Vol. 2-Passerines. Misc. Publ. Roy. Ont. Mus., Toronto.
- Peterjohn, B.G. and D.L. Rice. 1991. The Ohio breeding bird atlas. Ohio Dep.
Nat. Resour., Columbus.
- Pistorius, A. 1985. Black-billed Cuckoo. Pp. 126-127 in The atlas of
breeding birds of Vermont (S.B. Laughlin and D.P. Kibbe, eds.). Univ. Press of
New England, Hanover, NH.
- Robbins, M.B. and D.A. Easterla. 1992. Birds of Missouri: their distribution
and abundance. Univ. of Missouri Press, Columbia.
- Robbins, S.D. 1991. Wisconsin birdlife. Univ. of Wisconsin Press, Madison.
- Roberts, T.S. 1932. The birds of Minnesota. Univ. of Minnesota Press,
- Sauer, J.R., J.E. Hines and J. Fallon. 2001. The North American Breeding
Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966-2000. Version 2001.2, USGS
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
- Spencer, O.R. 1943. Nesting habits of the Black-billed Cuckoo. Wilson Bull.
- Stevenson, H.M. and B.H. Anderson. 1994. The birdlife of Florida. Univ. of
Florida Press, Gainsville.
- Storer, R.W. 1966. Sexual dimorphism and food habits in three North American
accipiters. Auk 83:223-236.
- Thomas, B.T. 1995. Black-billed Cuckoo parasitizes the nest of a
Yellow-breasted Chat. Raven 66:3-5.
- Tufts, R.W. 1986. Birds of Nova Scotia. Nimbus Publ. and Nova Scotia Mus.,
- Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. 2002. Wisconsin
Breeding Bird Atlas.