Tucson Wildlife Center’s animal care team were having bittersweet moments this week while caring for a yellow-billed cuckoo, suffering from a chest wound with upper respiratory and spinal swelling from a probable window strike. While we hate to see any animal injured and suffering, it was a treat to meet this increasingly rare bird (the western population of this bird has been listed as a threatened species since 2014). These long-distance migrants spend winters in South America, arriving in Arizona in June. By late August, they are already heading south again. *
Interestingly, cuckoos are in the same family as roadrunners … the Cuculidae family. Despite their many differences, both of these are slender birds with rounded wings, curved bills, and floppy tails. Their tail feathers also are graduated in size, with the shortest ones on the outer edges, and the males and females within each species look alike. Another family trait can be seen in the tracks, which look like X’s. This strange track, which makes it hard to tell whether the birds are coming or going, occurs because their feet have two toes pointing forward and two pointing back, enabling them to climb and grasp. **
Fun fact: Yellow-billed Cuckoos have one of the shortest nesting cycles of any bird species. From the start of incubation to fledging can take as little as 17 days. Although born naked, the young birds develop quickly; within a week of hatching the chicks are fully feathered and ready to leave the nest. ***
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