Decision on listing of western Yellow-billed Cuckoo due by October

3/27/2014 | 2

Yellow-billed Cuckoo photo by Kelly Colgan Azar (Creative Commons)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, photo by Kelly Colgan Azar (Creative Commons)

East of the Rockies, Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a common spring and summer resident of open woods and streamsides. West of the Continental Divide, however, the once-widespread species is anything but common.

The cuckoo no longer breeds in British Columbia and probably doesn’t nest in Washington, Oregon, or western Montana — areas where it bred until the 1930s and ’40s. Breeding populations in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, California, and western Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas are tiny. The bulk of the remaining population is in Arizona, western New Mexico, and Mexico.

In October 2013, more than 15 years after conservation groups had proposed the move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggested listing the western Yellow-billed Cuckoo as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal biologists say more than 90 percent of the bird’s riparian habitat in the West has been lost or degraded. Key factors in the bird’s decline, according to the 46-page listing proposal, include habitat fragmentation, dams and river-flow management, bank protection, overgrazing, and competition from exotic plants — all of which harm the streamside thickets of willows, cottonwoods, and other native trees that cuckoos like.

The agency estimates a total population of 680-1,025 breeding pairs: 350-495 pairs in the United States and 330-530 pairs in Mexico — numbers that the service says may be inflated because some pairs could be counted twice.

Because the population is so low, a Threatened listing is insufficient, says the American Bird Conservancy. It urges the agency to list the cuckoo as Endangered and says reversing its decline would require:

• Removing grazing cattle from riparian areas

• A “much more aggressive” water-management and habitat-restoration strategy

• Changing steady-burning lights on communication towers to flashing lights to reduce bird deaths

• Restricting pesticide use, especially toxic neonicotinoids, in farm fields adjacent to cuckoo nests

• Federal designation of critical habitat — a key to the success of most listings under the Endangered Species Act

Public comments on the proposal were due in late February. The agency says it will make its final listing decision by October.

Read the proposal

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Threatened Status for the Western Distinct Population Segment of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus); Proposed Rule, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, October 3, 2013. PDF

A version of this article appears in the April 2014 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.

  • roberta4343

    if you check your history the endangered species act was not responsible for saving any animals, putting them on the endangered species act will not help the bird and will harm home owners businesses and electricity creation via dams and water use by people and farms. it will be the excuse the gov is looking for to force people out of their homes, farms and businesses (indirectly of course by mandates water restrictions and heavy zoning of their property) and it wont help the bird at all or help humans either. endangered species act was a weapon devised by the gov to get around due process among other tactics they have used along with it. now pesticides may or may not be a problem I am more inclined to think it is poor management of public lands that is the culprit by the government and not private land owners. 30 percent or more of public lands are owned by the feds (so they think they do)and they are very bad managers os they control private land indirectly too by regulations and zoning, just compare their management practices with those who actually own their land big difference. when your a gov entity you can just take what you want so you have no incentive to care for your own property to keep it nice, for humans or animals, and no incentive to protect it from over extraction by corporations who have no incentive to be careful since they will be leasing and move on to other places for their resources and not give a hoot about the damage they leave behind. what do you think the superfund thing was all about. it was taxpayer funded clean up crew which never actually cleaned up anything but just took the money and ran with it.

    • brad

      Ummm…as someone who has worked in the environmental field (mostly for private oil and gas companies and/or private landowners) for over 15 years…I have to disagree with just about everything in the above post. Sounds like a political rant, which would be more appropriate on another website. The bald eagle and many other fish-eating raptors would most likely be extinct or highly impaired without the banning of DDT in 1972, and the listing of the eagle, and protection of the ESA beginning in 1973. There’s so much data to back up the recovery of the eagle, and many other birds, mammals, and reptiles that there’s not room in this post. Yes the feds are bad managers, but when it comes to birds, toads, or pretty much anything, private corporations will wipe them all out if it means more money. Seen it first hand, many times. They ask only “what the feds make them do”, and they do no more…absolutely no more, to protect imperiled species. This isn’t across the board, of course…I’ve worked with a few great, proactive companies who hire me to help with protection and recovery issues. And as for the Superfund…it’s there to clean up sites that are left behind by companies that either file bankruptcy or just bail and leave the country. Again…seen it many, many times! Superfund is the only source of cleanup for many grossly contaminated sites in this country. So I guess it’s better for private companies and other folks to just be able to do what they want, when they want, and we can all just sit around and hope they’ll do the right thing? I’ve seen that “voluntary compliance” crap tried in Texas at a number of sites and it doesn’t work, PERIOD! Companies will comply as long as it doesn’t take time and/or money…which it always does.

      So, as someone who actually works in the field, and has seen both sides of the coin, The endangered species act has been the only thing keeping many species from going extinct, and the superfund program has been responsible for many, many cleanups that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.

      And as for public lands…ever been to Oregon? Washington? Some of the most well managed forests and public lands anywhere! Just wondering :)