Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 26, 2018

Contact:  Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Trump Administration Moves to Strip Endangered Species Protections From Threatened Western Songbird

Agricultural, Mining Interests Push to Delist Yellow-billed Cuckoo

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Trump administration announced today it may end federal protection for the western yellow-billed cuckoo even as delays mount in conserving the species’ habitat and the threatened bird’s numbers continue to fall.

The songbird is threatened with extinction as its streamside habitat has dried up from agricultural water withdrawals and development of its streamside homes. But livestock and mining interests in Arizona and an extreme property-rights group in Texas pushed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review the bird’s status.

“The last thing the yellow-billed cuckoo needs is to lose its federal protection,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “After flying a thousand miles from South America, these migratory birds need healthy rivers to nest and feed alongside. The Trump administration should protect their nesting grounds, not abandon them to polluters.”

The western population of the yellow-billed cuckoo was first identified as needing federal protection in 1986. The Center submitted a scientific petition to list it under the Endangered Species Act in 1998, but it did not gain protection until 2014, and the Service still hasn’t protected critical habitat for the rare bird.

“Trump’s ongoing delay in protecting the cuckoo’s habitat is bad enough,” Robinson added. “Stripping this remarkable bird of its Endangered Species Act safety-net would leave our cottonwood groves silent and make the waters that sustain them even more vulnerable to diversion, extraction and despoliation for short-term profits.”

In its announcement today, the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the industry’s claim that the western population of the cuckoo was not sufficiently different from the more common and secure eastern population, which is not federally protected. But the Service said it would review whether the cuckoo used more habitat than was thought.

The yellow-billed cuckoo once thrived along nearly every water body in the contiguous United States, but its western population has been devastated by dams, livestock grazing, water withdrawals, river channelization and development.

Today the bird survives in scattered locations in small numbers, including along California’s Sacramento, Eel and Kern rivers; the Colorado, Gila, Verde and San Pedro rivers in Arizona; New Mexico’s Gila and Rio Grande rivers; and in scattered locations in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming and Utah. Historically it was common from the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle to the mouth of the Colorado River.

The cuckoo is a visually striking bird with a long tail with flashy white markings. It is also referred to as the “rain crow” for its habit of singing right before storms. It breeds in streamside forests of cottonwood and willow.

The cuckoos are one of the few species that can eat spiny caterpillars, such as tent caterpillars, which the adult birds and their chicks gorge on in the spring and summer before flying to South America in the late summer and early fall.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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