SAVING THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO

The yellow-billed cuckoo is sometimes called the raincrow because its song is often heard just before thunderstorms or summer showers. But this rare bird raises its voice less and less often in western North America, where it has been eradicated from most of its riparian habitat. The cuckoo was once a common species from Lake Washington in Seattle to the San Pedro River in southern Arizona and countless places in between.  Today, with the loss of gallery riparian forests to dams, livestock grazing, water withdrawal and other factors, the cuckoo is found in a mere handful of locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.   

In 1998, the Center stepped in and petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant endangered species protection to the cuckoo.  The petition led to a Fish and Wildlife Service determination that western cuckoos should be treated as a “distinct population segment.” In 2000, the Center and allies filed a suit to force a listing decision, and the next year the Service determined the cuckoo’s listing was “warranted but precluded” — meaning the bird’s federal protection would be put off in favor of “higher priority” listings. 

But things are now moving forward. In 2011 the Center reached a landmark agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service compelling the agency to make progress in protection decisions for 757 species, including the western yellow-billed cuckoo. Following that agreement, in October 2013 the Service proposed the cuckoo for "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act — but since that designation wouldn't be protective enough, in 2014 the Center and our supporters built up pressure against the agency to upgrade the bird's proposed status to "endangered." We've also advocated for critical habitat designation for this beautiful bird, and in August 2014, the Service proposed to protect more than a half-million acres in nine western states.