Smooth-Billed Ani

If you find yourself in Florida, the Bahamas, or parts of Central and South America, there’s a good chance you’ll spot a smooth-billed ani somewhere along the way. Related to the cuckoo family, the smooth-billed ani is an all-black bird that averages about 14 inches in length, with much of that being the bird’s tail. A very social bird, it has a gregarious nature, and can almost always be found with a group of several other ani. Easy to spot, it can often be found in open pastures and fields, but is also known for spending time in semi-open forests, where it will perch in bushes and trees.

Where Does the Smooth-Billed Ani Live?

As stated earlier, the smooth-billed ani loves tropical climates. A year-round resident of Florida, it regularly goes back and forth between the Sunshine State and nearby Cuba. Along with these areas, it also frequents the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and parts of Central and South America including Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, and Argentina. Regularly found in areas of high humidity, it can be found near marshes and thickets, along with its preference for open fields and pastures. In many of these areas, the smooth-billed ani has benefited from deforestation, which has created much more open habitat.

What Does the Smooth-Billed Ani Eat?

Like most of its relatives in the cuckoo family, the smooth-billed ani has a varied diet. Preferring larger insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, moths, caterpillars, and other related insects, it will also consume large numbers of parasites from the backs of cattle, where it can be found perching on a regular basis. However, it doesn’t limit itself to just insects. In certain areas where it lives, the ani can be found catching and eating different types of spiders, snails, and small lizards and snakes. And when it’s in areas consisting of bushes and trees, it will eat small fruits, berries, and seeds. But beware, it also has a habit of eating the eggs of other birds, especially if other food gets scarce.

How Does the Smooth-Billed Ani Find its Food?

Exhibiting behavior similar to such relatives as the roadrunner, the smooth-billed ani finds most of its food by foraging around on the ground, running and hopping in a rather clumsy manner. But if it wants a meal of fruits and berries, it will land in a bush and hop from branch to branch, eating as much as it can find. And when it’s in an open pasture with cattle, it will catch as many insects as it can eat, as they get flushed out by the cattle and other animals.

How Do They Build Their Nest?

Unlike many birds, smooth-billed anis build their nests in a unique manner. Since these birds live in groups of up to five breeding pairs, all take part in building a communal nest in a shrub or tree, no more than 30 feet off the ground. Shaped like a bulky bowl of twigs, weeds, and leaves, each female lays as many as four pale-blue eggs there, which can add up to as many as 20 eggs in the nest at one time. However, some females will often try to toss out the eggs of other females, so the amount of eggs that eventually hatch almost always varies. But once all the eggs are in the nest, both males and females incubate the eggs and feed the young once the eggs hatch, which happens in about 14 days. Most of the time, the young will climb out of the nest before they are able to fly, but can usually do so within three weeks.

What Does the Smooth-Billed Ani Sound Like?

Along with its calls that sound like “ah-nee” or “que-lick,” the smooth-billed ani has a song consisting of slurred double notes that rise dramatically, and is said to have a metallic and whining quality. Often found singing while in flight, it has a habit of dipping its tail as it flies, often looking as if someone is pulling a string above the bird, much like you would with a puppet.

Bet You Didn’t Know

As one of the world’s most unique birds, the smooth-billed ani has many unusual facts and beliefs associated with it. For example, there is a belief in some countries that the meat of the ani can cure asthma. However, according to legend, the asthma sufferer must not know they are eating ani, since if they do the cure will not take place. And like other ani, groups of these birds are often referred to as a “cooch.”

With its unique appearance, interesting behaviors, and superstitions, the smooth-billed ani is indeed one of the world’s most talked-about birds. So the next time you happen to be in Florida or South America, be on the lookout for a “cooch.”