Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Episode 536 (8-3-20): Cuckoos as Rain Crows

Click to listen to episode (3:47)

Sections below are the following:

Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 7-31-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 3, 2020.  This week’s episode is a revised repeat of an episode from August 2013.

MUSIC – ~5 sec – instrumental 

That music is named for a bird which provides this week’s mystery sound.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds, and see if you can guess what’s making the repeated cooing sounds, and what that they might have to do with water.  And here’s a hint: predicting the weather is rarely just like the clockwork connected to this bird.

SOUNDS  - ~13 sec

If you guessed a cuckoo, you’re right!  That was the call of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, recorded around sunrise on August 9, 2013, in Blacksburg, Virginia.  The music you heard is part of “The Cuckoo’s Nest,” performed by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, Virginia, on the 2004 album, “Virginia Wildlife.”  The Commonwealth is a summer home for two of North America’s three cuckoo species, the Yellow-billed and the Black-billed.  Both species are found in woods, thickets, and orchards; both are secretive and are heard more than seen; and both feed in summer primarily on insects, particularly caterpillars.  Cuckoos are in the same taxonomic family as roadrunners, and cuckoos do, in fact, sometimes run or hop along the ground to capture prey.

Now, all of that may be interesting, but what do cuckoos have to do with water, particularly?  For that, we turn to folklore, which has nicknamed both species as “rain crow” from the belief that they tend to call more frequently before rain.  Cuckoos are only one of the many kinds of animals considered in folklore to predict rain or other weather.  For example, a North Carolina publication on popular beliefs includes 25 pages of comments from many states about weather prediction by animals, from mammals and birds to spiders and crawfish.  Some of the other rain predictors noted in that publication, beside cuckoos calling, are a snake dying on its back, turtles crawling up on dry land, and frogs calling.  How much truth lies behind that folklore?  I certainly don’t know, but, for what it’s worth, it did rain the day I recorded the Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

Thanks to Timothy Seaman for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 10 more seconds of “The Cuckoo’s Nest.” 

MUSIC - ~ 10 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water. 


This Virginia Water Radio Episode is a revised repeat of Episode 174 (8-12-13), which has been archived.

Thanks to David Brady, Thomas Brobson, Eric Day, and Stephen Schoenholtz for information about Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo sound was recorded by Virginia Water Radio in Blacksburg, Va., on August 9, 2013, at approximately 6:30 a.m. EDT. 

The version of “The Cuckoo’s Nest” heard in this episode, from the 2004 album “Virginia Wildlife,” is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music, used with permission.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at http://www.timothyseaman.com/.  The “Virginia Wildlife” CD was a collaboration between Mr. Seaman and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which is now the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at http://newstandardbluegrass.com. 


Yellow-billed Cuckoo, photographed at North Garden, Virginia (Albemarle County), July 25, 2020.  Photo by Rando_boyo, made available on iNaturalist at https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/54354156 (as of 8-4-20) for use under Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0.”  Information about this Creative Commons license is available online at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

Black-billed Cuckoo, photographed in Smyth County, Virginia, June 4, 2020.  Photo by Bruce Grimes, made available on iNaturalist at https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/48539028 (as of 8-4-20) for use under Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0.”  Information about this Creative Commons license is available online at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.


Used for Audio

Frank C. Brown, The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Vol. 7: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina, Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., 1964, available online at http://archive.org/stream/frankcbrowncolle07fran#page/n9/mode/2up)l.  See particularly pages 305-330.  Following are some examples from that source of comments about animals and weather prediction:
“When you hear the cuckoo calling, it is the sign of rain”;
“If a snake dies on its back, it is a sure sign of rain”;
“When turtles crawl to high land, rain is expected”; and
“Tree frogs cry just before a shower.”

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search.  The entry for the Black-billed Cuckoo is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-billed_Cuckoo/.  The entry for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-billed_Cuckoo/. 

Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies, Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, 1980.

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/.  The entry for the Black-billed Cuckoo is online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040203&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18474.  The entry for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040202&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18474. 

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Birds,” online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/all/birds/all. 

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Birds of the World,” online at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/home, (subscription required).

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird. Information is available online at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at https://ebird.org/home.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web,” online at https://animaldiversity.org/.

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at http://www.virginiabirds.org/.  The Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site, online at http://www.xeno-canto.org/.  This site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post. 

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.” 

2010 English SOLs

Reading Theme
8.4, 9.3, 10.3, 11.3, and 12.3 – knowledge of word origins, analogies, and figurative language to extend vocabulary development within authentic texts.
8.5, 9.4, 10.4, 11.4 – symbols, imagery, figurative language, and other literary devices.

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
2.7 – Weather and seasonal changes affecting plants and animals.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Virginia natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Interrelationships in Earth/Space Systems Theme
4.6 – weather conditions, phenomena, and measurements.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
1.5 – animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.

3.4 – behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 – food webs.

Life Science Course
LS.4 – organisms’ classification based on features.

LS.8 – community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.

Earth Science Course
ES.12 – weather and climate.

Biology Course
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels. 

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15
– on density, for 5th and 6th grade.

Episode 282, 9-21-15
– on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.

Episode 309, 3-28-16
– on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Episode 333, 9-12-16
– on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.

Episode 403, 1-15-18
– on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Episode 404, 1-22-18
– on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.

Episode 406, 2-5-18
– on ice on rivers, for middle school.

Episode 407, 2-12-18
– on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.

Episode 483, 7-29-19
– on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.

Episode 524, 5-11-20
– on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.

Episode 531, 6-29-20
– on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.