Coccyzus erythropthalmus

Status:  Rare regular breeder and spring and fall migrant east and central, rare casual west.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM 6243, 6 Jul 1901 Warbonnet Canyon, Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies recognized (Gill and Donsker 2017).

Spring:  May 17, 17, 18 <<<>>> summer

Migrants appear in mid- to late May. Half of the spring arrival dates considered by Johnsgard (1980) were in the period 16-30 May. Earlier dates are 10 May 1995 Douglas Co, 11 May 2011 Douglas Co, 13 May 2021 Indian Cave SP, Richardson Co, and 15 May 2008 Lincoln Co.

A high count in Otoe Co 16 Jun (see below) suggests migration continues well into Jun.

  • High counts:  7 in Otoe Co 16 Jun 2007, 5 there 31 May 2006, 3 at Blyburg Lake, Dakota Co 20 May 2000, 3 near Creighton, Knox Co 24 May 2002, and 3 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 13 May 2011.

SummerIn Nebraska, this species is near the southwestern edge of its summer range, but at one time occurred statewide.  Currently, it is primarily restricted to northeast Nebraska and is less-than-annual in the west. This species prefers deeper or denser woodlands than Yellow-billed Cuckoo and because those habitats are limited in Nebraska it is less common than that species, especially westward. In the Missouri River Valley, it tends to occur in interior forest with dense thickets for nesting. BBS data (2008-2012) indicate that few are reported away from the extreme southeast, although there are breeding records statewide (Ducey 1988).

An apparent decline since the 1960s may be a consequence of a northward shift of the breeding range since then, similar to other northward summer range shifts in Nebraska. BBS trend analysis shows a -5.29 (95% C.I.; -7.24, -3.34) decline during the period 1966-2015 (Sauer et al 2017).  Mollhoff (2016) also noted a decline, from 23% to 7%, in the proportion of blocks this species was reported between the first (1984-1989) and second (2006-2011) BBA.  Similar results have been reported in South Dakota (Drilling et al 2018). It has been suggested that declines in Nebraska and elsewhere are a result of extensive pesticide use reducing abundance of caterpillars (Hughes 2020). Short (1961) suggested that it may be “frequently overlooked,” as he found it common at Big Springs, a part of the state where it has been thought to be least numerous (Johnsgard 1979, 1980). Short’s observation may have been during a caterpillar outbreak, a phenomenon which may influence abundance of this species to a greater extent than for Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Rosche 1982). It was listed as uncommon at NNF Bessey, Thomas Co by Bray (1994), who suggested that this species had become less common than Yellow-billed Cuckoo since Zimmer noticed the opposite in 1912 (Zimmer 1913). One was reported at Smith Lake WMA, Sheridan Co during summer 2008 (Steven Jones, pers. comm.).

  • Breeding phenology:
    Eggs: 29 May-19 Jun
    Nestlings: 30 Jun-12 Jul

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Aug 29, 30, 31

Departure is in Aug, with very few later dates: 2 Sep 1994 Dakota Co, 7 Sep 2018 Douglas Co, 10 Sep 2020 juvenile Lancaster Co, 12-13 Sep 2020 adult Lancaster Co, 21 Sep 2020 juvenile Lancaster Co, and 27 Sep 2015 Thurston Co.


BBA: Breeding Bird Atlas
BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
NNF: Nebraska National Forest
NOURC: Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee


Photograph (top) of a Black-billed Cuckoo in Sarpy Co, 12 Jun 1984 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Bray, T.E. 1994. Habitat utilization by birds in a man-made forest in the Nebraska Sandhills. Master’s Thesis, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Drilling, N.E., E.D Stukel, R.A. Sparks, and B.J. Woiderski. 2018. The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of South Dakota. SDGFP, Wildlife Division Report 2017-02. South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, Pierre.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Falk, L. 2002. Birds in Otoe County. Published by the author, Nebraska City, Nebraska, USA.

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Hughes, J.M. 2020. Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution.  University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1980. A preliminary list of the birds of Nebraska and adjacent Great Plains states. Published by the author, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Short, L.L., Jr. 1961. Notes on bird distribution in the central Plains. NBR 29: 2-22.

Zimmer, J.T. 1913. Birds of the Thomas County Forest Preserve. Proceedings Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union 5: 51-104.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 29 May 2021