The Hispaniolan lizard-cuckoo is the most common of the four species of cuckoos that breed on Hispaniola – and to some, it is the most beautiful. Striking black and white bands accent its long tail, which accounts for almost half of its total length, which is just short of one half meter. Its chest and back are gray, while its throat ranges from whitish to orange, and its wings are tan. The bright red bare skin patch surrounding its eyes is particularly distinctive. Its most common vocalization, and the most reliable sign of its presence is its extended string of hoarse ka ka ka ka ka ka ka ka ka ka ka, notes that descends in pitch as it resonates through the forest. The Hispaniolan lizard-cuckoo also produces a distinctive guttural tuk wah-h-h-h call, that no doubt, inspired the name Takó in Haiti and adjacent border areas of the Dominican Republic.
The Hispaniolan lizard-cuckoo is a rather inquisitive bird: when a person approaches, it will often cock its head as it watches, and sometimes will even approach the observer with little fear. The ease with which it can be captured, or hunted with just a slingshot gives rise to its Spanish name of pájaro bobo, or dumb bird. It can be found in most any habitat with trees or shrubs (including coffee plantations and urban parks and gardens), from sea level up to about 1,700 meters.
Despite its Spanish name, the Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo does not lack intelligence at all when hunting its prey. True to its name, it targets lizards, but also readily consumes large insects, such as cockroaches, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars and cicadas. Tobacco farmers in the Dominican Republic greatly appreciate this species because it eats the caterpillars that attack the leaves of this crop. Although these slender, graceful birds seldom move quickly, they can be difficult to follow in dense forest because of their habit of “walking” in the trees. They move with long strides along the tree limbs, often crouching and proceeding stealthily in search of their prey, or creeping like large agile rats through dense tangles of branches near the ground.
“This boy does not want to eat, you have to cook him a Lizard Cuckoo.” Popular expression, collected by Simón Guerrero
“It is truly a bird of great beauty and grace.” Anabelle Stockton de Dod
Rapid beats of its short, rounded wings, carry it across openings in the forest. As it approaches the far side of the opening, it typically spreads its wings to cover the final stretch with a graceful glide, easily evoking the image of the flight of an Archeopteryx, the most ancient of known fossil birds. Fortunately, it remains a relatively common bird in appropriate habitat, although it continues to be hunted because of the persistent local belief that consuming its meat restores a person’s appetite, as well as cures asthma, indigestion and arthritis. This unfortunate superstition has done much harm to this beneficial and friendly bird, especially in agricultural fields. Fortunately, the Hispaniolan lizard cuckoo has managed to adapt to urban and semi-urban areas, where there are still abundant lizards and cockroaches, and where children have exchanged their slingshots for video games.