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Species Guide
A photo of a Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana)
Squirrel Cuckoo

Squirrel Cuckoo

Piaya cayana

The Squirrel Cuckoo, known scientifically as Piaya cayana, is a large and vibrant bird, distinguished by its extensive tail, which measures between 40.5 to 50 cm in length. Adults typically weigh between 95 to 120 grams. They boast a rich chestnut plumage across their upperparts and head, which transitions to a paler hue on the throat. The lower breast is a subtle grey, while the belly takes on a darker, almost blackish tone. The central tail feathers are a warm rufous color, but the outer feathers contrast sharply with black and white tips. The bill of this species is a striking yellow, and the iris is a vivid red, adding to its distinctive appearance.

Identification Tips

To identify the Squirrel Cuckoo, look for its chestnut upperparts and long, expressive tail. The red eye-ring is a hallmark feature in most South American populations, while those in Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America display a yellow eye-ring. Immature birds can be recognized by their grey bill and eyering, a brown iris, and less white in the tail. When compared to the similar Little Cuckoo, the Squirrel Cuckoo is larger and has a lighter throat.


This species thrives in the canopy and edges of woodlands, as well as in secondary growth, hedges, and semi-open areas. It is adaptable to a range of elevations, from sea level up to 2,500 meters, though it is seldom found above 1,200 meters.


The Squirrel Cuckoo is a widespread resident from northwestern Mexico down through to northern Argentina and Uruguay, and is also found on the island of Trinidad.


The Squirrel Cuckoo is named for its squirrel-like agility, as it runs along branches and leaps from one to another. It typically engages in short flights, preferring to glide with intermittent flaps. This bird is known for its boldness and visibility, despite its tendency to remain within dense vegetation.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Squirrel Cuckoo include explosive "kip!" and "kip! weeuu" calls. Its song is a melodious series of whistled "wheep wheep wheep wheep."


The female Squirrel Cuckoo lays two white eggs in a concealed nest made of leaves and twigs, situated 1 to 12 meters above the ground within dense foliage.

Diet and Feeding

This cuckoo favors a diet of large insects such as cicadas, wasps, and caterpillars, including those with stinging hairs or spines. It also consumes spiders, small amphibians, reptiles like lizards, and on rare occasions, fruit. It often forages alongside small mammals and may participate in mixed-species feeding flocks.

Conservation status

The Squirrel Cuckoo is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, thanks to its abundant population and resilience to human disturbance, provided that its woodland habitat is preserved.

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