Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Cuckoos of Cuba

     We encountered two species of cuckoo on Cuba, both extremely interesting and one endemic to the island.
    The most frequently seen was Smooth-billed Ani Crotphaga ani, every day in fact.

     The sexes are alike, having a glossy black head and nape, contrasting with glossy bluish feathers on the back. In the field anis usually look uniformly black unless observed at close range in good light. They are gregarious, frequently found in small flocks from two to a dozen.

     Their diet consists of insects, mainly grasshoppers; also mantids, other orthoptera, cockroaches, beetles, squash bugs and assassin bugs. They are fond of weevil root borers which are serious pests in sugar cane plantations, so are welcomed in those locations.
     Smooth-billed Anis, like most birds, are opportunistic feeders and they have been recorded taking small birds from mist nets.

      Breeding activity is unusual in that several pairs occupy a single nest. As many as nine adults may take part in building the nest, which is built in a thorny tree, shrub or thicket and comprises a large, bulky shallow mass of interlaced sticks. Many adults bring food to the nestlings.

     Smooth-billed Anis are confined to sub-tropical and tropical areas of the Americas and I consider myself fortunate to have observed this species at length in several countries. Their presence enlivened our days on Cuba.

     The second cuckoo observed was Great Lizard Cuckoo Coccyzus merlini, a species endemic to Cuba. 
     This is a very large cuckoo having an overall length of 54 cm; its tail comprising more than half its length. Despite its large size it is secretive, skulking and often difficult to see. As you will see from the various pictures here, one would need to photoshop them all together to get a complete bird in one frame!

     Vines and dense vegetation in tropical lowland evergreen forest, tropical deciduous forest, secondary forest, woodlands and thickets, vines, creepers and abandoned coffee plantations all form the habitat of Great Lizard Cuckoo. Although capable of strong flight it is more frequently seen gliding from tree to tree.

     The diet of the Great Lizard Cuckoo includes lizards, frogs, snakes, bird eggs and nestlings, grasshoppers, bees and wasps.

     There is a common misperception held by some that all cuckoos are brood parasites, but this is not true. Many species, including both Smooth-billed Ani and Great Lizard Cuckoo raise their own young. 
     The nest of Great Lizard Cuckoo is a shallow saucer of twigs, in a tree. Two to three white, somewhat glossy eggs are laid.
     We encountered this species less frequently than Smooth-billed Ani, and never out in the open, but that only added to the delight in finding it. 
     Franc, as always, was there, camera at the ready, to capture these images and we appreciate his largesse in contributing them for this post.


  1. Very interesting birds! I've never seen them before!

  2. Very good images of cuban cuckoos. I've seen Crotophaga ani in Misiones province, near Iguazú falls, the other cukoo is new for me but we can see were I live C. melacoryphus

  3. Buen día Hernán: Here in Ontario we have two species of cuckoo spring through fall - Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus and Yellow-billed Cuckoo C. americanus.

  4. Such fascinating species... and great photos!
    We have only Cuculus canorus (common), Clamator glandarius (very rare) and Cuculus saturatus (extremely rare).

  5. I do like the look of the cuckoo.

  6. Hi Both, another interesting post of birds I have never heard of let alone seen. The Great Lizard Cuckoo most certainly has some length of tail. Hope you both had a wonderful Christmas. All the best for birding in 2017 and look forward to some interesting posts. Regards John

  7. Hi. Great photos. Birds are truly beautiful.

  8. I was especially interested to learn more about the Smooth-billed Ani as I remember it from Costa Rica, but certainly didn't have the time with them that you had.

  9. Good Morning David. That is a nice series of shots of the Smooth-billed Ani, a species that to me so resembles a member of the crow family rather than a cuckoo. We rather take for granted a species' place in the tree of life but there is a lot of scientific work behind their classification. Likewise the Great Lizard Cuckoo which reseembles the cuckoo I am familiar with and also your own Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. It's interesting as you say, that neither are brood parasites but are still cuckoos.

  10. What an odd looking pair, looking nothing like the 'traditional' cuckoos we get in Europe and Asia.........

  11. Ooh these cuckoos are really interesting, I've never seen one like this before. Beautiful shots here David. I think I need to save up so I can go on a birding holiday like this to Cuba, it seems ot be the place to go to spot some stunning wildlife! - Tasha

  12. Hello David,
    is all his other cuckoos than we have in the Netherlands :-)
    Beautifulhalf pictures of this for me unusual birds.
    You kion also very nice pictures, making s and I could see this as pretty good :-)
    Greetings, Helma

  13. Some great photo's again David, and such different colouring on these cuckoo's.

    All the best Jan

  14. Nature is marvellous ! Thank's to you and Franck.
    I know why I like birds !!!!
    Bye David

    1. The birds of Canada are waiting for you to come and see them, Nathalie!

  15. Great series of photos from Frank, David!
    The Smooth-billed Ani is a weird looking species and all the more interesting that looks like no other!
    I wish you and Miriam a fantastic new year with fulfilling travels!
    Keep well :)

  16. Stunning pics David,can't wait to go,only Six Weeks to wait.
    May we wish you both a Happy New Year.
    John and Sue.