Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2007-11

Common name:

Black-billed Cuckoo

Scientific name: Coccyzus erythropthalmus
Date: 05/25/2007
Time: 8:00 am
Length of time observed: 2 seconds
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: unknown
Location: Capitol Reef National Park along the Fremont River Trail
County: Wayne
Elevation: 5400 feet
Distance to bird: 7 feet
Optical equipment: none seen with naked eye
Weather: Clear Skies and warm
Light Conditions:  Bright morning light, with the sun at my back
Description:        Size of bird: Long and slender, dove sized but not plump like a dove
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Extremely thin with long tail and pointed wings
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Dull. White and gray-brown
(Description:)            Bill Type: not seen (what a paradox)
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
I turned around to see a cuckoo flying across a 10 foot gap in the trail I was conducting a riparian bird survey along. The bird stuck out as a cuckoo due to the long slender shape of the bird, and the long pointed wings. Upon seeing the bird flap twice I noticed there was no rufous in the under wings or the outerwings; no rufous in the primaries and secondaries as one would expect with the more common Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

The underside of the wings appeared to be the same color as the belly, with a dark trailing edge.

The entire underside of the bird was a creamy white color, from throat to undertail coverts. The bird was at about eye level, so the pattern of the under side of the tail was not seen, but the tail appeared to be a dark gray throughout.

The back and outerside of the wings appeared to be grayish-brown throughout, giving it a rather drab look, with no real distinguishing color marks.

The view was so brief that I was unable to see the bill to make sure that it was black, but based off all the other characteristics it seemed impossible for the bird to be a Yellow-billed.
Song or call & method of delivery: none
Behavior: Short flight from one feeding area to another.
Habitat: Riparian corridor. Tall cottonwoods, with a thick understory of willow, russian olive, and another shrub I am not familiar with. The bird flew from the river which had about a 10 feet width of
understory on the south edge to a patch that was about 60 feet long and 30 feet wide that was extremely thick.

There were numerous tent caterpillar "nests" in the surrounding cottonwoods.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Yellow-billed Cuckoo is the only other species found in this part of the country that has a similar body shape and plumage. However, Yellow-billed Cuckoo in flight shows large amounts of rufous coloring in the primaries and secondaries on the outer wing as well as the under wing. The tail of the Yellow-billed is also quite patterned on top and below, and would likely of flashed white and black in the light. Yellow-billed is also white as snow underneath, and in the great morning light that would have stood out, as opposed to the more creamy-white color seen.

Based off the lack of rufous, only Black-billed Cuckoo would be possible.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Have seen both species before, including about a dozen sightings of Yellow-billed in Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana. Have heard Black-billed Cuckoo in Colorado, and saw 2 in basically the
same manner as this bird in Indiana last June.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to birds and several websites upon returning to Salt Lake.
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: Tim Avery
Observer's address: Salt Lake City, Utah
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: none
Date prepared: 05/26/2007
Additional material:  
Additional comments: I could draw what I saw, but I don't believe it would help anymore than the notes above. I spent another 70 minutes looking for the bird but was unable to find it again, which was rather frustrating.