Cuckoos (Cuculidae) are fascinating birds, with a wide diversity of types within the group, and several different lifestyles, from gregarious group living, to obligate parasitism, to species that construct their own nests and raise their own young as do most birds.
The two species covered in this post fall into the latter category, and are are treated here together since we had the good fortune to observe them at the same time on a boat trip along the Río Frío at Caño Negro, Alajuela Province.
Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) is a large and splendid bird, polytypic, with as many as fourteen subspecies being recognized.
It ranges widely throughout Central and South America, from Mexico as far south as NE Argentina.
This species may be found in a wide range of habitats, often close to rivers, and it has adapted well in some areas to gardens and parks. In general it prefers open forest and avoids dense lowland forest, but will occupy edge habitat and clearings.
Its principal food is caterpillars, green or hairy, and it will take a wide range of other insects. Individuals often forage by running along branches in the manner of a squirrel, their long tail resembling that of a squirrel - hence their name, Squirrel Cuckoo.
The nest is a shallow platform of sticks and twigs containing two or three eggs, which are white when laid but quickly become stained brown.
Miriam and I have been fortunate to have seen this species in several countries and in various situations. It never fails to engender excitement and delight.
The second species we encountered on our meander along the river was Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor), a monotypic species with a more familiar look to it (to North American eyes at least) since it is in the same genus as our familiar Black-billed Cuckoo(Coccyzus erythropthalmus) and Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).
I remember spending best part of a day about thirty years ago in prime mangrove habitat in Florida searching for this species, without success. Florida is at the northern limit of its range, but it occurs in suitable habitat throughout Central America, the West Indies, Trinidad, the Guianas, Venezuela and Colombia.
As its name implies, this is a mangrove specialist and is found in few other habitats, and even then in association with water along riparian corridors.
Mangrove Cuckoos are insectivores, relying mainly on caterpillars and grasshoppers. Other large insects are also a component of their diet, however, and they do not eschew snails and lizards given the opportunity to capture them.
The nest is a flat platform of sticks and leaves, generally 2-3 metres above the water. Two to three greenish to bluish green eggs are laid, the colour rapidly fading to greenish yellow.
To see a cuckoo is always a thrill, to observe these two species at the same time more than one might hope for. I doubt that we will have the good fortune to repeat it.