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Rain crows?

February 18, 2018
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

I find myself more and more often needing to check my used news column file to see if I have written on a subject previously. Granted, I sometimes do write more than one column on a subject and have, on occasion, purposely rerun a few.

I performed a search on the used news column file prior to doing this week's column. I knew that I had intended to do one on cuckoos but had I? My search yielded no results so here it goes.

First, am I cuckoo for choosing cuckoos? Would anyone know what they were and that they live here? Would anyone care? I will admit that the first thing popping into my mind (and maybe a few of you) was the old Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs commercials. The folks that make Cocoa Puffs must have a love affair with the cuckoo because it has been the mascot for the cereal since 1962.

Now, I will admit that I can't believe that I have spent over 150 words before I ever get to the subject cuckoos that live in Iowa. Let's be clear, I mean cuckoos the birds. I am not talking about the cuckoos the humans they live in Iowa, too.

Iowa has two species of cuckoo birds the black-billed and the yellow-billed. The more common is the yellow-billed. The Cocoa Puffs cuckoo has a yellow bill. So I will focus on the yellow-billed.

Yellow-billed cuckoos are warm brown above and clean whitish below. From below, the tail has wide white bands and narrower black ones. And of course, a mostly yellow bill that curves downward.

Yellow-billed cuckoos are neotropical migrants. They nest primarily in the eastern half of the United States and winter as far south as Argentina.

Yellow-billed cuckoos will lay eggs in the nests of other species and even their own species. The other species that they most commonly parasitize are American robin, gray catbird and wood thrush. More commonly, however, both members of the pair help build the nest, incubate the eggs, brood and feed the young. The nest is a loose platform of twigs and stems, lightly lined with grass, leaves and bark strips.

There are usually 2-3 eggs, and incubation lasts 9-11 days. The young leave the nest after 7-9 days, and cannot fly until three weeks. Until flighted, the young are very good at climbing among the branches of the low shrubs and trees.

While the cereal version of cuckoo loves cocoa puffs, yellow-billed cuckoos love caterpillars. In fact, there is an increased amount of nesting activity coinciding with years of increased caterpillar numbers.

The call of the cuckoo is one I truly remember from childhood. I actually don't remember seeing the bird growing up on the farm but my parents and grandparents would point it out when they heard it. The yellow-billed cuckoo's call is best described as a rapid throaty ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kow-kowp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp (slowing toward end). But why the nickname of rain crow? Their call is very distinctive and often heard on hot, humid afternoons. As these conditions often precede rainstorms, people imagined that the bird was calling for or signaling rain.



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