USGS And Arizona Game And Fish Begin Partnership To Study Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

June 30, 1998

A secretive bird called the western yellow-billed cuckoo is the focal point of a new partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The western yellow-billed cuckoo occupies habitat in the Southwest that seems more "imperiled with each passing year since the 1970's -- and that habitat is riparian thickets and woodlands,"said Duane Shroufe, director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Shroufe said that although his department knew that the decline of riparian -- or streamside -- habitat could be posing problems for the cuckoo, a lack of resources and funding had prevented the department from being able to adequately address the problem: identifying the cuckoo's specific habitat needs and what should be done about protecting the species.

"Now," said Shroufe, "the USGS has provided funding and expertise that will challenge us and other potential partners to give this species the attention it merits. We applaud the Bureau's leadership and look forward to the improved resource management the project will generate."

Only about 12 inches long and with a bold black and white tail pattern and a yellow bill, this cuckoo is one of a much larger group of birds called neotropical migrants, said USGS bird biologist Mark Sogge. These birds winter in Central and South America, spending the rest of the year in North America. Researchers suspect that the two major factors in the bird's decline are alteration and destruction of the bird's habitat and pesticide use in both Latin America and the United States. As is true with other neotropical species, pesticide use not only can directly cause the death of these birds but also can cause population declines due to thinning of eggshells and decreased availability of insects and other cuckoo prey killed by insecticides.

"Cuckoos aren't very visible to people to begin with," said Sogge. "They are secretive and live in dense-growth habitats. It is easier to overlook the decline of such wildlife."

John D. Buffington, USGS chief biologist for the western region, called the partnership an "excellent opportunity" for state and federal scientists to work together on a shared natural resource concern. "The task of understanding the status of a bird or any other form of wildlife is not easy," said Buffington. "We have the expertise at our USGS science facilities to work with the State of Arizona to answer critical questions about this species."

Two USGS field stations will be involved in the studies: one is at the University of Arizona in Tucson; the other at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Researchers at the Tucson field station will evaluate the characteristics of cuckoo breeding habitats at numerous sites, assessing the important commonalties among those sites. This information, said Buffington, will allow researchers to more closely characterize successful cuckoo breeding habitats.

The Flagstaff group will search museum and written records for information about the bird's historical abundance and locations. Researchers from this field station will also survey for live cuckoos in suitable habitats, primarily in the northern part of the state.

Arizona's Game and Fish Department activities will complement those of the USGS by focusing on field survey work in the central and southern part of the state, said Shroufe. This research, he added, will also build on the department's ongoing work in Partners in Flight, a national program to conserve neotropical migratory birds. These activities, said Shroufe, are part of the state's nongame and endangered wildlife program, which is funded largely by the Arizona lottery.

Once the information about the cuckoo is collected, Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists and wildlife managers will make a recommendation about the status of the cuckoo in Arizona to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As the nation's largest water, earth and biological science and civilian mapping agency, the USGS works in cooperation with more than 2000 organizations across the country to provide reliable, impartial, scientific information to resource managers, planners, and other customers. This information is gathered in every state by USGS scientists to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, contribute tot he sound conservation, economic and physical development of the nation's natural resources, and enhance the quality of life by monitoring water, biological, energy and mineral resources.
NOTE TO NEWS EDITORS: A reproducible picture of the riparian habitat that western yellow-billed cuckoos live in is available for downloading at

This press release and in-depth information about USGS programs may be found on the USGS home page: To receive the latest USGS news releases automatically by email, send a request to . Specify the listerver(s) of interest from the following names: water-pr: geologic-hazards-pr; biological-pr; mapping-pr; products-pr; lecture-pr. In the body of the message write: subscribe (name of listserver) (your name). Example: subscribe water-pr joe smith.

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