A member of the cuckoo family, the groove-billed ani is one of the most unusual birds you will ever encounter. Considered odd-looking due to its long tail, which is almost as long as its black body, and the large bill with its distinctive horizontal grooves, this bird is a sight to see. Living in areas that are partially or completely open, such as pastures and orchards, they love to stay together in small flocks. In fact, you’ll often find several of them sitting side-by-side on a tree branch, with their wings spread out to soak in the sunshine.
To find the groove-billed ani in the United States, you’ll need to look to the southern part of Texas. A year-round resident there, it can also be found further south into Mexico, Central and South America, and the Bahamas. After staking out a territory in which to live, the groove-billed ani will gather in small groups that consist of up to five pairs of males and females. Unlike most birds, all members of the group lay their eggs in a communal nest, and each bird takes a turn incubating the eggs and caring for the young once the eggs hatch.
What Do Groove-Billed Ani Eat?
Because they can be found in pastures, orchards, and other similar settings, groove-billed ani eat mostly insects of all types, seeds, and fruits and berries. When it comes to insects, large ones such as grasshoppers and beetles are preferred by the ani, and they’ll also perch on cattle and consume various parasites off the cattle. But if they want a a delicacy, they will spend their time searching out and consuming spiders, lizards, and other creatures. But in order to find their food, they have to work at it, usually by running and hopping on the ground, or by foraging in bushes when they want berries. For groove-billed ani who live in South and Central America, they often follow swarms of ants, eating the insects that get flushed out by the ants.
Where Do They Nest?
As for nest of the groove-billed ani, it’s often in a low tree, no more than 15 feet off the ground. The nest itself, built by both the male and female, is shaped like a bowl and very bulky, consisting of twigs and leaves. Once the nest-building is finished, each female in the group lays up to four pale blue eggs. However, in another strange behavior, each female often tries to throw out the eggs of the other females, so the number of eggs that hatch always varies. For the eggs that wind up remaining in the nest, they hatch in 14 days, with the young leaving the nest in about two weeks, once they are able to fly well on their own.
What Does the Groove-Billed Ani Sound Like?
When it comes to the songs and calls of the groove-billed ani, they can vary as well. It’s song is described as a soft, gurgling series of liquid notes that flows freely and is easily recognized. And along with this song, it also has a call that sounds like a rollicking “wee-cup.” However, when the bird gets alarmed or frightened, it will begin a series of rapid chirping, whining whistles, and loud, harsh calls.
Often described as disheveled in its appearance due to it’s black plumage always having a shaggy appearance, the groove-billed ani also looks quite strange when it flies. Because its tail is so long, in flight it goes up and down, often looking as if it’s being controlled by a person holding a string. And in case you’ve always wondered what to call a group of groove-billed anis, you can take your pick of several names. Some people prefer to call a group of anis a “cooch,” while others refer to them as an “orphanage” or “silliness.” But no matter which word you choose, you’ll no doubt find yourself fascinated by watching these unusual birds.
While the groove-billed ani generally flies very low to the ground, you may also get another treat now and then. Since they are members of the cuckoo family, which also happens to include roadrunners, you may once in awhile see these two relatives running along side-by-side, searching for lizards, small snakes, and other desert creatures. But whether you find them with their relatives or with members of their group, you will be unable to stop looking at and listening to these birds. Whether sitting on a tree branch soaking in the hot Texas sun or taking a turn incubating eggs or feeding their young, groove-billed anis are in a class all by themselves. If you’re eager to watch a bird that looks, acts, and sounds like none of our other feathered friends, then track down a cooch of groove-billed anis.