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All About the Cuckoo
Take a Cuckoo Quiz

The cuckoo is a bird with a hollow-sounding, plaintive call that sounds like: coo-coo coo coo-coo-coo. Its name was taken from the sound of its call.

There are about 142 species of cuckoo. These birds are widely distributed in temperate and tropical regions. Many cuckoos live in the canopy of the rainforests (in Australia, South America, Asia, and Africa), although others live in the desert (like the road runner, which is a ground cuckoo) and other varied environments.

The different cuckoo species come in many different muted colors, with feathers ranging from gray to yellow to cream.

The Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-Shrike
(Coracina lineata)
(27 cm long, Australia, New Zealand)



Anatomy
Cuckoos have downward-curving beaks, pointed wings, and dull-colored feathers. Cuckoos differ in size, but many are roughly 11-14 inches (28-33 cm) long. Cuckoos are Zygodactyl birds; birds with two toes that face forward (toes 2 and 3) and two toes that face backwards (toes 1 and 4).

Most cuckoos have a long tail and short legs. The ground cuckoo is an exception, it has long legs and is a fast runner. The roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), a ground cuckoo of the southwest American deserts, can run at speeds up to 15 miles per hour (24 km per hour).

Some American (New World) cuckoos are the black-billed (pictured above left) and yellow-billed cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus). These birds migrate to South America during the cold North American winter.

Diet
Cuckoos are insectivores. They eat spiders beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars and insect larvae which they catch with their pointed beak. Some also eat other small animals, like lizards and snakes.

Nesting and Brood Parasitism
Almost half of the cuckoo species are brood parasites; these birds lay their eggs in other birds nest (birds of other species). The unwitting host bird feed the intruder bird with its own brood. Scientists think that the cuckoo's brood parasitism may have evolved independently in New World (North and South American) and Old World cuckoos.

Other cuckoo species care for their own young, and a few of these are cooperative breeders (living in family units), notably the anis.

Classification
Class Aves (Birds)
Order Cuculiformes


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