24 Sep 2012

Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana)

Creature Feature, Tropical Nature News

The Squirrel Cuckoo mimics the sound of a human whistle- the ‘woop, woooo’ that is sometimes made by males in the presence of an attractive female. It has a large repertoire of calls but the one mentioned above is the most common.

This member of the Cuculidae family is an inhabitant of forests and semi-open cultivated areas in Trinidad. Cuckoos stay mostly in the middle to the tops of trees, where they forage for preferred meals in insects and lizards. Our ‘Coucou Manioc’ as it is also called, likes large insects including caterpillars, cicadas, grasshoppers and beetles.

Characteristically, the cuckoo darts like a squirrel in trees, its long tail trailing behind it. When flying, it will glide for a short time. Stealthily, it stalks its prey and launches at them at the appropriate time or occasionally sallies for flying insects.

The Squirrel Cuckoo has a rufous head, back and long tail with white-tipped tail feathers, red eyes and a greenish-yellow eye-ring and bill. It resembles another one of our species in Trinidad, the Little Cuckoo, except for some distinguishing features. The ‘Coucou Manioc’ is larger (17 inches), has a longer tail and has a pale pinkish upper throat and pale grey lower breast. The Squirrel Cuckoo inhabits Southern Mexico to middle and south America and of course, Trinidad.

In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded in January, May, July and October. This cuckoo makes a nest out of twigs and lined with dead leaves, 15-40 feet above ground normally. It lays two pale yellow eggs which the male and female help incubate. Both parents also feed the young.

Come to Asa Wright Nature Centre in the right season and you may get a live viewing of the endearing Squirrel Cuckoo.

This painting of the Squirrel Cuckoo was done by Don Richard Eckelberry (1921-2001), a renowned wildlife artist who played a significant role in establishing the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

– J.L. Ryan

 

References:

Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.

ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991

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