Posted by: Sandy Steinman | September 30, 2012

Rare Bird Sighting: Common Cuckoo Updated September 30 in Watsonville, California

Updated 9/30/12

Calbirds yahoo group is receiving regular postings on the Common Cuckoo and even has a map showing its location. If you are interested in seeing it you might check out the site.

There was a Rare Bird Sighting of the Common Cuckoo on September 28 in Watsonville, California. Here is  a posting from the ABA Birding Blog with more information and photos links. The only previous reported sighting in the lower 48 record was at Martha’s Vineyard, MA,  May 3-6, 1981.

This is one of those finds where the ABA checklist code doesn’t begin to capture the true rarity of the sighting: A Common Cuckoo was found on Sep 28 at Watsonville, CA. It’s a Code 3 (defined as rare; a species that occurs in very low numbers, but annually, in the ABA Checklist Area), but that’s due to sightings from Alaska, mostly from the Bering Sea region. Outside of that, it is almost entirely unknown in the ABA Area. The only previous Lower 48 record is from Martha’s Vineyard, MA, where one was found May 3-6, 1981.

Found during a Santa Cruz Bird Club field trip led by Steve Gerow, the cuckoo was first spotted by Lois Goldfrank. Gerow wrote the following directions to the Monterey Bay Birders listserv: “…the bird was just off the Ford St./Kearney Street loop, where it borders Watsonville Slough. This reached from Walker Street, a left turn if you are coming from the south (Beach Street) end, and [a right turn] from the north (Walker Street becomes Harkins Slough Road just a bit to the north of this area). We saw it in a grove of willows across from Farmer’s Cold Storage. Part of the grove had been cut, and there is a lot of wood on the ground.” Roger Wolfe created a map of the location; it can be found here.

Common Cuckoo is very similar to Oriental Cuckoo, a Code 4 vagrant to western Alaska, so identification can be tricky, but this individual appears to be an adult female hepatic morph. In this plumage, Common Cuckoo has an unbarred rump while the rump of an Oriental is barred. [Note: while writing this, a post to Monterey Bay Birders mentioned that it had a white spot on the top of its head, suggesting it may be an immature. This may complicate the identification, though it has narrow barring on the underparts, another good mark for Common, and in the photos I have seen, it does appear to be an adult female.]

The cuckoo was found at 11:30 AM and was being seen as late as 4:45 PM. This is a developing story so check back again. I hope to have photos, but in the meantime, some can be seen herehere, and here.


  1. This rare bird came out to full view this evening from 6-6:20 along the foot path off Ohlone Parkway just below Landmark Elementary School. It had been flying west from the main body of Watsonville Slought for two hours, hiding in willows that line the west branch of the slough, when suddenly it flew to a perch directly in front of a number of us and perched for 20 minutes. There should be good photos of this sighting posted this evening as several cameras were in our group. Dobie Jenkins, Watsonville CA


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