Mangrove Cuckoo

Coccyzus minor

Image by Chan Robbins, US Geological Survey
  • CUCULIDAE
  • Cuckoos, Anis
  • Cuculiformes
  • Cuco Manglero
  • Coulicou manioc
Introduction

The Mangrove Cuckoo is among the most poorly known North American birds. The bird's secretive nature, preference for impenetrable mangrove swamps, and tendency to remain silent during the non-breeding season makes it virtually undetectable to casual observers. As a result, many aspects of this species' lifestyle and ecological requirements remain a mystery.

Appearance Description
The Mangrove Cuckoo is one foot long, with a wingspan of 17 inches, and weighs 2.3 ounces (65 grams). It has a stouter bill and a buffier colored belly than other cuckoos. Its bold white tail spots and entire plain brown top side are also distinctive among cuckoos.
Range Map
Courtsey Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
The Mangrove Cuckoo inhabits coastal regions of southern Florida, south through the Caribbean islands, and on both coasts of Mexico and Central America. It may also occur sporadically in lowland areas of South America from Venezuela east to the mouth of the Amazon River.

In Florida, Mangrove Cuckoos are uncommon; they are most abundant on the south coast, upper keys, lower keys, and along the Gulf Coast to Marco Island. They are more common in coastal Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands, and rare in south Central America, north South America, and Trinidad.
Habitat
Despite its name, Mangrove Cuckoos are not restricted to mangroves, but are widely distributed in many lowland habitats, occupying scrub, woodlands, and humid forests from sea level to about 1,400 meters. They are found in a broader range of habitat types on Caribbean islands than in most mainland areas. In Florida, these birds primarily reside in swamps of black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) and red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), as well as in closed stands of coastal mangroves, and remote mangrove islets. They are also found in areas adjoining mangroves, including beach scrub and tropical hardwood hammocks consisting of Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia piscipula).
Feeding
These cuckoos forage slowly and deliberately among dense, leafy trees and shrubs, where they peer about, making short leaps to pluck insects from the vegetation. Caterpillars are a preferred food, but grasshoppers, praying mantises, moths, flies, spiders, small frogs, and berries are also eaten.
Reproduction
Mangrove Cuckoos require dense vegetation for breeding, such as mangroves, tropical hardwood hammocks, and thorn thickets, often over or near water. Males give a low throaty call to indicate territory and attract mates. The nest is typically built by both parents upon a horizontal branch or vertical fork of a mangrove, shrub, or small tree, usually located lower than 10 feet above the water or ground. This loose, flat platform of dry, coarse twigs may be either unlined or sparingly lined with bits of plant material. Two, or sometimes three, pale blue-green eggs are laid, which often can be seen through the bottom of the nest. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.
Migration
Once thought to be fully migratory in Florida, winter sightings of Mangrove Cuckoos are becoming increasingly frequent throughout their Florida range. Further study of Mangrove Cuckoos wintering in Florida may indicate that the species may be non-migratory. The common idea that Florida populations are migratory may have been based on early studies that failed to locate Florida birds in fall or winter. Taped recordings of calls have since been used to locate silent winter individuals, indicating that at least a portion of the population stays in Florida all year. Current evidence for migration is weak; based solely on the occurrence in West Indies and South America of individuals with pale plumage that resemble Florida birds. However, examinations of many specimens indicate that pale forms may be found regularly among other breeding populations. Populations south of Florida apparently do not migrate.
  • 200,000
  • 10,000
Population Status Trends
The density of this species is often underestimated because of its preference for inaccessible habitat, and secretive nature—particularly in winter, when it rarely vocalizes. The status and population trend for this species is difficult to determine but no evidence of change in density in protected areas where habitat is undisturbed. The importance of coastal habitats in Florida does not portend well for future status.
Conservation Issues
Throughout Florida's history, the Mangrove Cuckoo's tropical deciduous forest habitat has been cleared for residential and agricultural purposes; by 1991, only 40% of the birds' original breeding habitat remained. Data from Florida indicate that the cuckoos are highly susceptible to habitat loss and fragmentation, as they are found only in forest fragments larger than 12.8 hectares. Currently, only a few large, widely separated forest parcels are protected in the Florida Keys. Mangrove Cuckoos may reoccupy previously disturbed habitat, such as former agriculture zones in the upper Florida Keys, if succession to forest is allowed to occur. 

To ensure the bird's survival in Florida, large areas of suitable breeding habitat, including mangroves and coastal hammocks, require protection. Currently, Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Preserve, national wildlife refuges in the lower Florida Keys, and state and county parks provide sanctuary. In 1992, the National Audubon Society, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy and Florida Natural Areas Inventory, proposed the acquisition of 334 hectares of seasonal deciduous forest and 366 hectares of adjacent mangrove forest in 17 sites from central Key Largo through Key Vaca. By 1996, this project had acquired 187 hectares of habitat, with 540 remaining to be acquired. 

Earlier land protection measures helped this species avoid extirpation in Florida; however, ongoing efforts to acquire and protect additional high quality habitat are thwarted by limited funding. The range of the Mangrove Cuckoo in Florida is restricted to southern and central coastal areas that are also popular for residential and recreational purposes. Protecting narrow strips of mangroves along shorelines will not provide the continuous tropical woodland required for breeding. A network of reserves is needed to allow movement between the remaining large forest fragments, to reduce risks from catastrophic events like hurricanes, and to provide refuges for recolonization. Continued acquisition of lands for protection is essential to ensure healthy breeding populations of Mangrove Cuckoos in Florida.
What You Can Do
Support the protection of mangrove forests where Mangrove Cuckoos live.

Make environmentally-friendly seafood choices which encourage sustainable fisheries; for example, many mangrove forests have been destroyed to create shrimp farms. 

Find out about actions you can take including Audubon programs and activities.
More Information
Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Mangrove Cuckoos and other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Areas program, visit: www.audubon.org/bird/iba/.

Learn more about this species and other birds through these resources.
Natural History References
Hughes, J. M. 1997. Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor). In The Birds of North America, No. 299 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 1996.
Conservation Status References
Hughes, J. M. 1997. Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor). In The Birds of North America, No. 299 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 1996.

Sibley, David A. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2000.