For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Michael Robinson (575) 313-7017

546,335 Acres in 9 Western States Proposed as Protected Critical Habitat for Yellow-billed Cuckoos

Protection Will Benefit Rare Songbird and Health of Rivers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming

SACRAMENTO - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect more than a half-million acres of critical habitat across the West for the yellow-billed cuckoo, a songbird that lives along rivers and streams. The bird was proposed for Endangered Species Act protection in October 2013 as part of a 2011 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species nationwide. Today’s proposal would protect 546,335 acres of streamside habitat in nine western states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Yellow-billed cuckoo

Photo courtesy Flickr Commons/Seabamirum. This photo is available for media use.

“This is an important victory not just for yellow-billed cuckoos but for rivers and streams across the West,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center, which first petitioned for the cuckoo’s protection in 1998.

The cuckoo was identified as being in need of federal protection in 1986. It once thrived along nearly every water body in the West, but its population has been devastated by dams, livestock grazing, water withdrawals, river channelization and other factors. Today it survives in scattered locations in very small numbers, including portions of the Sacramento, Eel and Kern rivers in California; the Colorado, Gila, Verde and San Pedro rivers in Arizona; the Gila and Rio Grande rivers in New Mexico; 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 bird’s Endangered Species Act protection is expected to be finalized in October, and today’s proposed critical habitat designation should be finalized in October 2015. Critical habitat protection will require any federally funded or permitted projects that could harm the cuckoo’s habitat to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the habitat is not harmed. Species with protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering compared to those without.


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 gallery forests of cottonwood and willow. The cuckoo is one of the few species that can eat spiny caterpillars, such as tent caterpillars.

“The cuckoo’s decline is representative of the poor job we’ve done caring for our waterways, so this proposal is a big step toward being better stewards of our rivers and streams,” said Robinson. “Protecting these streamside habitats will also protect healthy water quality for people.”

Under the landmark 2011 agreement between the Center and the Service to speed review of species awaiting Endangered Species Act decisions, 128 species have gained protection to date, and another 15 have been proposed for protection, including the cuckoo.


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