“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO


Smooth-billed Ani, TCGC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO 

The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is the third member 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.

Ani Range Map (Xeno-Canto) jpg

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 2a

Unlike their shy and retiring cuckoo cousins, anis are extrovert shouty birds that like to hang out in noisy gangs. Large groups can quite often be found in the low scrub at the Highway end of the Delphi drive; and you may well find a posse of them in settlements such as Sandy Point. You’ll probably hear them from some way off, sounding like this:

Leonardo Ordóñez-Delgado / Xeno Canto

Smooth-billed Anis_Abaco - Tony Hepburn

Anis have advanced parenting and chick-rearing skills, sharing not only communal nesting sites but also egg incubation and feeding the chicks. They are also what my mother might have called ‘fast’, raising up to three broods in a season. Rather touchingly, the young of earlier broods help to feed more recent chicks.

Smooth-billed Anis Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer d

I have tried to discover why an ani’s beak is as it is, without much success. Very often beak shape relates directly to the feeding habits and preferences of a species, but it is hard to see how a diet consisting mainly of insects and small reptiles such as lizards would account for such a prominent proboscis. Here is a close-up of the item in question (thanks, Roselyn Pierce).
On Abaco (and indeed elsewhere) Anis are sometimes known as ‘Cemetery Birds’, no doubt because of their all-black appearance (their raucous tendencies would be quite inappropriate for a graveyard…). [Nicolette Russell has contacted me to say that she has always known them as Rain Crows] However although at a distance these birds may look completely black, catch one in the sun at the right angle, and you’ll find that the plumage is far more varied, and with some intricate patterning.

Smooth-billed Ani. Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

Look for Anis in low scrubland and coppice, cultivated areas, perched in unsteady bickering rows on utility lines… and on the ground.

Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco. Gerlinde Taurer c

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”.

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 1a

“One… is the loneliest number…” oh, hang on a moment…Smooth-billed Ani Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer a

…”two of us…standing solo in the sun…”Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) b

As far as I know, there is not yet a collective noun for a group of anis. There should be. Any suggestions welcome via the comment box. Meanwhile I put forward A Commotion of Anis”

Smooth-biled Ani, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Credits: Becky Marvil, Nina Henry, Tony Hepburn, Gerlinde Taurer, Roselyn Pierce, Tom Shelley, Bruce Hallett; Xeno Canto for range map & sound file; Hat tip to Aimee Mann.

“Star Anis” – do not confuse with Star Anise. One can fly, the other cannotStar Anise Spice (Tesco)