Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 17, 2018

Contact:  Brian Segee, (805) 750-8852,

Lawsuit Aims to Force Trump Administration to Protect Western Songbird’s Habitat

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Gone From Much of Former Range

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect lifesaving critical habitat for the western yellow-billed cuckoo in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Colorado and other western states.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, notes that the songbird once ranged widely in the western United States but has declined to as few as 350 pairs. The Center has worked for the birds’ protection for two decades, first submitting a scientific petition to list them under the Endangered Species Act in 1998. 

After more than a decade of delay, the Fish and Wildlife Service finally listed the western cuckoo as threatened in 2014. The agency also proposed the protection of more than half a million acres of the species’ critical habitat but failed to finalize the designation.

“The Trump administration needs to designate critical habitat immediately, before we lose these elegant little songbirds forever,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center. “If we’re going to keep cuckoos from going extinct, federal officials have got to protect their streamside habitat. Those protections would also have huge benefits for people and communities that need healthy waterways.” 

The yellow-billed cuckoo depends on healthy streamside areas for breeding, nesting and feeding. Its disappearance from vast expanses of its former habitat is due largely to
damming of rivers, water withdrawal and livestock grazing. Climate change threatens the cuckoo with increased drought. Pesticide use and collisions with communication towers and other tall structures further imperil the bird.

Critical habitat designation would help address these threats by requiring federal agencies to consult with the Service when their actions may result in damage or destruction of the bird’s habitat.

The western yellow-billed cuckoo winters in South America and summers in the western United States and parts of Mexico and Canada. Its range has drastically contracted with the species no longer occurring in most of the northern half of its range in the West.

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 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 whose long tail has flashy white markings. It breeds in streamside forests of cottonwood and willow and is one of the few species that can eat spiny caterpillars, such as tent caterpillars, which adults and their chicks gorge on in spring and summer.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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