How the Cuckoo Wages an 'Evolutionary Arms Race'

But even the roadrunner can be a clever deceiver. These birds, somewhat larger than many other cuckoos, have been observed teaming up to take on a rattlesnake. One bird will distract the deadly snake while another sneaks up behind it and grabs it by the throat.

The roadrunner then beats the snake's head against a rock to kill it before both birds sit down for lunch. It's not a pretty scene, but even these fearless meat eaters can be model parents.

That's not always the case with the yellow-billed cuckoo and the black-billed cuckoo, which only occasionally parasitize another bird's nest. But apparently even that isn't working out for the yellow-billed bird. It is nearly extinct in the western United States.

By the way, these two species love cicada outbreaks and show up in droves to join in a feeding frenzy. But after that, it's back to a diet of caterpillars, grasshoppers and tree frogs.

The Anis cuckoo, seen throughout much of the United States, is more social than most species. They have been known to share nests so that several birds can lay eggs and all take part in raising the kids. Nests have been found with up to 20 eggs, with as many as four mothers, and harmony rules until there is a shortage of food.

When that happens, the dominant female starts tossing eggs out of the basket, especially those that are not her own, until the brood is small enough to survive on whatever food is available.

So even in the best of times, cuckoos have found a tough way to earn a living. Deceit, though not pretty, may be the only way to go.

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