Priority Birds

The Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Audubon Arizona employs high school interns to help save the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.

Once a common sight in cottonwood-willow forests along Arizona’s rivers, the western yellow-billed cuckoo is now listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act – a testament to the poor health of our western rivers. Factors contributing to the birds' population decrease are the loss, alteration, and fragmentation of native riparian habitats. Fortunately for this bird, Audubon Arizona is hard at work putting people – students, chapter members, citizen scientists, political advocates and more – to action protecting the riparian areas on which it depends.

Over 500,000 acres of critical habitat have been proposed in the Southwest, including Arizona - Arizona currently contains the largest population in the western United States. Since 2010, Audubon Arizona has organized and conducted surveys of the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo in riparian areas around the state, including the Agua Fria National Monument, the Hassayampa River, and Tonto Creek.

For the past five years, Audubon Arizona staff biologists have hired high school interns through the River Pathways program to assist with surveys for the western yellow-billed cuckoo. Interns are trained in survey protocol, provided with camping gear for use over the summer and are taught basic outdoor skills such as setting up a tent, outdoor cooking and “leave no trace’ behaviors. Students accompany Audubon biologists for the surveys, thereby receiving direct mentoring. Interns leave the experience with a wealth of knowledge about Arizona’s riparian areas, birds and conservation activities that they and their families can take.

Fun Facts about the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Most young cuckoos leave the nest on their 6th day of life. They can't fly yet, but climb through the canopy.

Most cuckoo pairs are monogamous, but about 30% have unrelated helper males also feeding the young.

Yellow-billed cuckoos usually raise their own young, but have laid eggs in the nests of at least 11 different kinds of birds.

Caterpillars and katydids are what cuckoos like to eat most, but they'll catch tree frogs and grasshoppers to use as "fast food" for their young.

On day five or six, the nestlings' feathers burst out of their sheaths and the cuckoo chicks become fully-feathered in just two hours.

Feathers make up almost half of the Yellow-billed cuckoo's body weight.

On the cuckoo's feet, two toes point forward and two point backwards. Most other birds have three pointing forward and one back.

Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo Survey Training 2016

There are two trainings available in 2016: June 23-24 in Phoenix, and July 14-15 in Hereford. Click here to learn more and register.

How you can help, right now