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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Black-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo (Audubon).jpg

THE BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO.

Coccyzus erythrophthalmus, Ch. Bonap.

PLATE XXXII. Male and Female.


I have not met with this species in the State of Louisiana more than half a dozen times; nor indeed have I seen it at all in the Western States, excepting that of Ohio, where I have occasionally observed an individual, apparently out of its usual range. Some of these individuals were probably bound for the Upper Lakes. The woody sides of the sea are the places to which this species usually resorts. It passes from the south early in March, and continues its route through Florida, Georgia, and all the other States verging on the Atlantic, beginning to rest and to breed in North Carolina, and extending its travels to the Province of Maine.

The flight of this species is swifter than that of its near relative, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, for which bird it is easily mistaken by ordinary observers. It does not so much frequent the interior of woods, but appears along their margins, on the edges of creeks and damp places. But the most remarkable distinction between this species and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is, that the former, instead of feeding principally on insects and fruits, procures fresh-water shellfish and aquatic larvæ for its sustenance. It is therefore more frequently seen on the ground, near the edges of the water, or descending along the drooping branches of trees to their extremities, to seize the insects in the water beneath them.[1]

The nest of this bird is built in places similar to those chosen by the other species, and is formed of the same materials, arranged with quite as little art. The females lay from four to six eggs, of a greenish-blue, nearly equal at both ends, but rather smaller than those of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. It retires southward fully a fortnight before the latter.

It being so scarce a species in Louisiana, I have honoured it by placing a pair on a branch of Magnolia in bloom, although the birds represented were not shot on one of these trees, but in a swamp near some, where the birds were in pursuit of such flies as you see figured, probably to amuse themselves. The Magnolia has already been presented to your view in another plate, where it was figured in seed. Here you have it arrayed in all the beauty of its splendid blossoms.


Coccyzus erythrophthalmus, Ch. Bonap. Synops. of Birds of United States, p. 42.

Black-billed Cuckoo, Cuculus erythrophthalma, Wils. Amer. Omith. vol. iv. p. 15. Pl. xxviii. fig. 2.


Adult Male. Plate XXXII. Fig 1.

Bill as long as the head, compressed, slightly arched, acute, not more robust than that of many Sylviæ; upper mandible carinated above, its margins acute and entire; lower mandible carinated beneath, acute. Nostrils basal, lateral, linear-elliptical, half-closed by a membrane. Head and neck of ordinary size. Body rather slender. Feet short and small; tarsus scutellate before and behind; toes two before, separated; two behind, one of which is versatile; the sole flat; claws slender, compressed, arched.

Plumage blended, soft, slightly glossed. Wings long, the first quill short, the third longest. Tail long, graduated, of ten feathers, which are rather narrow and rounded.

Upper mandible brownish-black; lower bluish. Iris hasel. A bare space of a deep scarlet tint around the eye. Feet dull blue. The general colour of the upper parts is light greenish-brown. Cheeks and forehead tinged with greyish-blue. Tail-feathers, excepting the two middle ones, tipped with white. Under parts brownish-white.

Length 11½ inches, extent of wings 15; beak along the ridge ⅚, along the gap 1¼.


Adult Female. Plate XXXII. Fig. 2.

The female differs very little in external appearance from the male, and is nearly of the same dimensions.




The Great Magnolia.

Magnolia grandiflora, Wild. Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1255.


This plant has already been described at p. 28, the ripe fruit having been represented in Plate V.

  1. After the summer showers, the ground is seen covered with multitudes of very small frogs, of a brownish-black colour, which many of the inhabitants foolishly suppose to have descended from the clouds. Some of these I have occasionally found in the stomach of the Black-billed Cuckoo.