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.