The decline of the yellow-billed cuckoo is a signal that western rivers and streamside forests can not sustain the current impact of dams, water diversions, agribusiness, livestock grazing, sprawl, and pollution.

Something must be done.

To save the yellow-billed cuckoo, the Center for Biological Diversity is employing scientific research, environmental litigation, coalition building and public education to protect and restore western rivers. Healthy rivers are the key to healthy songbird and human populations.

The yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is often called the raincrow because its kakakakakakakaka ka ka ka ka ka ka kow kow kow kow kow kow kow song heralds the coming of rain. But the yellow-billed cuckoo is heard less and less often in eastern North America and has been entirely eradicated from most areas west of the Continental Divide. If its habitat is not soon protected, the cuckoo may soon disappear forever from western North America.

The cause of the cuckoo's demise is the same threat facing most endangered species- habitat loss. In the West, cuckoos are closely associated with streamside forests. Unfortunately, logging, cattle grazing, dams, water diversions, water pumping and pollution have decimated the West's rivers and riparian forests, causing over a hundred species of birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals to be listed as endangered species. Between 60 and 95% of the riparian forests have been destroyed in most western states. The climate east of the Continental is generally more humid, allowing cuckoos to tolerate greater levels of habitat loss, but the species is declining there as well.

"The best available scientific information indicates that cuckoo populations are declining at an alarming and increasing rate throughout much of North America .... Endangered Species Act listing of the cuckoo, as a species, subspecies, or distinct population segment is necessary to arrest the current trajectory toward extirpation in large portions of the species' range."

Letter from twenty-two scientists to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

To save the cuckoo and its habitat, the Center for Biological Diversity's scientists prepared a comprehensive status review of the species' habitat needs, population trends, taxonomy, and management status in 1997. In 1998, the Center authored a petition signed by twenty two environmental groups to protect the cuckoo under the federal Endangered Species Act. We requested that the western population be listed as an endangered species and that streams and rivers from Washington State to Texas be designated as"critical habitat" for it.

The petition resulted in a July 25, 2001 finding by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that the western yellow-billed cuckoo warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act as a "threatened" species. Rather than issue a proposed listing rule, however, the agency exploited a loophole in the Endangered Species Act that allows an indefinite delay of federal protection. Meanwhile, western rivers continue to be dammed, diverted, polluted, paved, and grazed. Neither they nor the cuckoo can sustain the current rate of exploitation much longer.

The Center for Biological Diversity is committed to protecting the western yellow-billed cuckoo and its habitat throughout the western North America. Its number have plunged so rapidly that it could well go extinct in the next several decades if riparian forests are not soon restored. We will continue to employ scientific research, environmental litigation, and public education to save the raincrow for future generations to enjoy.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
February 11, 2010
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