Squirrel Cuckoo

The Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) is a species of bird ranging from northwestern Mexico to northern Argentina and Uruguay, and on Trinidad. The habitat is woodland canopy and edges, second growth, hedges and semi-open areas from sea level to as high as 8200 feet in altitude, though it is not common above 4000 feet. Its name is derived from its habit of running and jumping along branches much like a squirrel. It mostly flies short distances, and glides with occasional flaps.

This is a large species of cuckoo at 17 to 18 inches long and weighing approximately 3.5 ounces. The adult has chestnut colored upperparts and head, fading to a pale throat. The lower breast is gray and the belly is blackish. The central tail feathers are reddish-brown, while the outer tail feathers are black with white tips. The bill is yellow and the iris is red. The young have a gray bill and eye-ring, brown iris and less white on the tail. There are several subspecies with some plumage variations. The call is a booming kip! and kip! Weeuu. The song is a wheep wheep wheep wheep whistle.

The diet of the Squirrel Cuckoo consists of large insects such as cicadas, wasps and caterpillars, and sometimes spiders and small lizards. They will take fruit, but rarely. The prey is usually taken from foliage with a quick lunge, but wasps may be taken from the air. They are known to forage peacefully among small mammals such as the Common Marmoset. They can also be seen around army ant columns picking prey that is flushed out by the ants. This bird will feed with other species of birds and will join in feeding flocks as well.

The nest is a cup of leaves, is built on a twig foundation, and is hidden in dense vegetation up to 40 feet high in a tree. The female lays two white eggs. This is a plentiful species and it very tolerant of human disturbance, as long as wooded habitat is easily accessible. Due to its wide range, it is considered Least Concern by the IUCN.

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