|Black-bellied cuckoo at Alta Floresta, Mato Grosso State, Brazil|
The black-bellied cuckoo or black-bellied squirrel cuckoo (Piaya melanogaster) is a bird of the family Cuculidae found in the Amazon region. The genus Playa is considered part of the cuckoos of the New World. Even though this species has a wide distribution, little is known about its ecology and natural history. This species is considered as monotypic. The word melanogaster means "black belly"; it has Greek roots, melas meaning "black" and gaster meaning "belly".
The average height of adults is between 38 and 40.5 cm. The beak is of an intense purple/red color, the iris is dark red with a blue orbital skin and one yellow mole at the anterior side of each eye. The head is grey and contrasts with the ruffle dorsal section of the bird. The throat and chest are brown-reddish, cinnamon color and the belly and crissum (the undertail coverts surrounding the cloaca) section are black. The tail is black with conspicuous wide white stripes. The juveniles do not differ from adults. P. melanogaster is better known because of the intense and some dark colors in the facial section and because of the grey crown.
P. melanogaster is often confused with the squirrel cuckoo (Piaya cayana) because both species share the same habitat. The squirrel cuckoo is more frequently observed in the canopy. They differ because P. cayana is seen more frequently in the canopy forest of firm land; also because the squirrel cuckoo has exposed yellow-greenish skin in the orbital area, the chest plumage is grey and it lacks the characteristic hood of the black-bellied cuckoo.
Their characteristic song is a compassed "dyerií-dyu, dyerií-dyu, dyerií-dyu…" sometimes repeated for one or a few minutes. This makes it difficult to trace their position. They typically remain motionless in the forest when singing. Also they produce faint grunts. There are 30 recordings in the foreground and 9 background recordings of the black-bellied cuckoo.
P. melanogaster is an infrequent species with an Amazonian distribution; it can be found in the upper parts of tropical rainforests and occasionally in savanna forests. Its preferred altitude is up to 800 meters above sea level. Is a native species of southern and eastern Guyana, Surinam, French Guyana, eastern Venezuela, Northern Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, eastern Perú and Brazil. Its distribution occupies 4 840 000 square kilometers approximately. It is not a migratory bird, it is a permanent resident of its range.
In Guyana, the black-bellied cuckoo can be found in Kanashen community, COCA. In Bolivia it can be found in the department of La Paz. In Colombia it is found from the south of La Meta, northwest of Guainía and southern Vaupés (eastern Andes section) and below 500 meters above the sea level.
In Ecuador it is found below 400 meter above sea level, is not a frequently seen species and is local in forest canopy of firm land in the eastern lowlands.
In Brasil this cuckoo is found in the Alta Floresta region at the north of Mato Grosso, in southeastern Amazonia.
This species has a wide distribution range, it is not inside the Vulnerable status because it doesn’t match its criteria (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size of P. melanogaster has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). Until 1994 P. melanogaster was in the Lower Risk/ Least Concern (LR/LC) category, nowadays it is in the Least Concern (LC) category.
P. melanogaster lives in tropical rainforests, humid forests of firm land, scrub and occasionally in wooded savannas. Individuals do not frequent open areas, like P. cayana does. The black-bellied cuckoo stays at upper levels of the forest. It is known that this species loses between 9.8 and 10.8% of suitable habitat within its range of distribution every three generations (13 years approximately).
P. melanogaster prefers forest canopies but can be seen in tall shrubs, climbing through vine, jumping between branches or running between them to fly in open spaces of the forest; their wing beats are slow and shallow. Individuals are usually by themselves or with their couple.
The reproductive cycle of P. melanogaster is unknown. There are records of individuals in reproductive condition during the month of April in the Upper Orinoco in Venezuela, and of youth being fed during the month of July in French Guyana. The eggs are pure white. Their generational time is 4.2 years. Piaya species, unlike Old World cuckoos, are not brood parasites; these species build their own nests in trees and can lay up to 2 eggs.
There are reports of two nests (one on an island and the other near a river) with chicks being fed in French Guyana between the months of August and November.
Their diet is based on large insects such as beetles, cycads, grasshoppers, ants and caterpillars (even those with sharp heirs that normally serve as protection from being preyed by birds). This species feeds in the forest canopy. This cuckoo, being a powerful bird, can also prey on small vertebrates like lizards.
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