‘PRESENTING… A LARGE BILL’
The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is one of three members of the cuckoo family found on Abaco, the others being the MANGROVE CUCKOO and the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Anis range from Florida and the Bahamas in the north down through the Caribbean to South America, where they are widespread.
Unlike their shy and retiring cuckoo cousins, anis are extrovert shouty birds that like to hang out in noisy gangs and family groups. They can often be found in low scrub, bickering, squawking, and generally fluttering around in a disorderly way. You’ll probably hear them from some way off, sounding like this:
Anis have advanced social, parenting and chick-rearing skills. They build a communal nest for the group, and all share in egg incubation and chick-feeding duties They may raise up to three broods in a season, which keeps the numbers up. Rather touchingly, the young of earlier broods help to feed more recent chicks.
It follows from this that unlike many other cuckoo species, the ani is not a brood parasite. So the species does not lay its eggs in the nests of other, smaller birds which then unwittingly rear the interloper(s), who in turn push the legitimate hatchlings out of the nest and get all the food and attention.
Look for Anis in low scrubland and coppice, cultivated areas, perched in unsteady noisy rows on utility lines, or foraging on the ground.
The appearance and flying abilities of Anis are wonders to behold. As I wrote in The Birds of Abaco, “Their curious heavy beaks, their clumsy flight and their untidy take-off and landing routines suggest a design fault”.
AIMEE MANN INTERLUDE **
“One… is the loneliest number…” Oh, hang on a moment…
…”two of us…standing solo in the sun…”
The Philatelic Bureau of the Bahamas Postal Service is commendably committed to featuring the natural history of the Bahamas. Although probably not in the top-ten of anyone’s bird list, the ani nevertheless got its own stamp in a 1991 bird issue.
As far as I know, there is not yet a collective noun for a group of anis. There should be. I put forward “A Commotion of Anis”
DO NOT CONFUSE WITH STAR ANISE
Credits (all photos taken on Abaco): Becky Marvil, Nina Henry, Paul Harding, Gerlinde Taurer, Roselyn Pierce, Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen; sound files from Xeno Canto and FMNH; range map from IUCN; hat tip to the always excellent Aimee Mann. ** yes yes I know these aren’t her original songs but I like the AM versions a