Everything about Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos makes them a challenge to survey. They are in Arizona for only a short time, and during the hottest months of the year - typically arriving in June and leaving in September. They are known for their expert secrecy and are far more often heard than seen. They rely on dense cottonwood/willow forests found along Arizona’s streams and rivers – perfect for producing the large insects they need to feed their fast-growing young, but tricky to access and navigate for surveyors.
This year, despite the challenges, our team surveyed 60 kilometers across six watersheds, spotted cuckoos nearly 300 times, and identified 44 potential breeding territories. You may be wondering how we get so much done in such a narrow survey window. The answer: Arizona’s Audubon chapters are dedicated to protecting the Important Bird Areas in their backyards and are willing to put in the work to make it happen.
Sonoran Audubon Society:
For nine years and counting, the Sonoran Audubon Society has been surveying Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos on the Agua Fria River, the heart of the Agua Fria National Monument Riparian Corridors IBA. This year, they documented occupancy and likely breeding on two routes within the IBA and confirmed nesting on a third. Thanks to their work over the years, the Bureau of Land Management has been able to enact several management strategies that benefit cuckoos and the Agua Fria – vehicle exclusions, winter-only grazing, and active restoration.
Prescott Audubon Society:
Since 2016, the Prescott Audubon Society has been surveying the Verde River within the Upper Verde State Wildlife Area IBA. During the 2019 survey season, they surveyed eight kilometers of the Verde and identified an equal number of potential breeding territories. When asked about their favorite part of the effort, you’d expect (chapter members being bird fanatics and all) that it’d be the great birding they get to enjoy on one of Central Arizona’s most intact riparian areas, but you’d be surprised. For these surveyors, their favorite parts about surveying for Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos come from working as a team – recruiting new surveyors, learning from each other in the field, and making a conservation impact that is bigger than they could achieve on their own.
Are you a member of your local Audubon chapter? They are more than just bird experts. They are conservation advocates, educators, community organizers, and community scientists and it’s because of them that Audubon has the capacity to take action from the local to national scale. Click here to find a chapter near you and learn how they can put you to action for Arizona’s rivers and birds.