by Maya Rappaport
February 26, 2021
In February, hints of spring begin to arrive in Arizona, bringing faint indications of the start of spring migration. As the weather warms and the air fills once again with birdsong, our excitement for the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival continues to grow! This year’s festival theme is Threatened and Endangered Species of the Verde Valley.
One incredible threatened species in the Verde Valley is the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). In the same family as the Greater Roadrunner, another beloved bird of the Verde Valley, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a long-beaked, long-tailed beauty and master of stealth. These birds are much more often heard than seen, as they love to conceal themselves in the dense foliage of riverside habitats. They have several distinctive calls; listen to them here.
A secretive bird of riverside forests, scientists have studied the Yellow-billed Cuckoo with increasing intensity over recent years. Western populations of Yellow-billed Cuckoo are declining rapidly due to habitat loss. This cuckoo species breeds exclusively along river corridors that are healthy enough to sustain abundant quantities of insects. As our Western rivers and the critical riparian habitats they support continue to shrink due to water overuse, overgrazing, development, and other factors, cuckoos find fewer safe, healthy places to raise their young.
Happily, here in Arizona, our Yellow-billed Cuckoo populations are much more abundant than in neighboring states. This is partially because of the incredible life-giving Verde River, one of the last intact, free-flowing rivers in the Southwest. And the habitat restoration work happening on Arizona’s last precious rivers helps cuckoo populations, too. Recent research indicates that sites of habitat restoration in riparian areas, where crews remove invasive species and re-plant suitable native trees and shrubs instead, are suitable for cuckoo breeding within as few as five years of restoration work!
At Friends of the Verde River, habitat restoration in our precious riverside forests and landscapes is a major focus. If we all continue to support a healthy river, we can ensure plentiful and vibrant breeding territory for cuckoos for many years to come. If you love the Verde and wish to support us in our efforts to protect and maintain it, please consider joining us for our upcoming events: Arizona Gives Day on April 6, and the Verde River Runoff from March 20-30. If you are interested in learning more about this incredible, beautiful, seldom seen species, please join us at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival from April 22-25, and learn more about this and other threatened species of the Verde Valley.