Published On: Thu, Aug 7th, 2014

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND-PENDULOUS ENVY: ALTAMIRA ORIOLE

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Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired”, zoologist, wildlife photographer, and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 53 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, © Cherie Pittillo

Icterus gularis, Calandria Dorso Negro Mayor (Spanish), Yuya, Yuyum (Mayan)

Not only is the 10 inch Altamira Oriole the largest of the six resident and two migratory oriole species in the Yucatan Peninsula, but it also produces the longest pendulous nest of those species. Usually the nest dangles from tips of high branches or even utility lines. These hanging baskets, 16-26 inches in length, are easy to see along the roads in the peninsula.

Altamira Oriole pendulous nest

Altamira Oriole pendulous nest

Two years ago I saw the beginnings of this nest where the female used plant fibers to construct the woven pouch. She interlaced each plant strand back and forth thousands of times using only her beak. This female architect took three weeks to finish it.

First nest of Altamira Oriole April 15, 2012

First nest of Altamira Oriole April 15, 2012

Female Altamira Oriole crafts her nest

Female Altamira Oriole crafts her nest

Since that nest wasn’t destroyed by rain or weather after the first use, the monogamous pair continued to upgrade it. This year the female adorned that pendulant cup with her mouth-to-mouth reconstruction with purple and lavender threads and a lavender ribbon! How’s that for a cup-uppance to other orioles?

Singing male Altamira Oriole at purple ribbon- adorned nest

Singing male Altamira Oriole at purple ribbon- adorned nest

When I first saw this colorful creation this year, the orioles had chicks. (I never saw how many hatched.) Both parents brought insects to their young. Each parent may wait on the just-fed chick to produce a white, membrane-covered, fecal sac. The parent then carries this “disposable diaper” away from the nest to clean their basket home. Also, that action may keep the young healthier and possibly reduce an odor that could attract predators.

Altamira Oriole pendulous nest

Altamira Oriole pendulous nest

Altamira Oriole removes fecal sac like a disposable diaper from the nest

Altamira Oriole removes fecal sac like a disposable diaper from the nest

Before and after one Altamira Oriole delivers food and other removes white fecal sac

Before and after one Altamira Oriole delivers food and other removes white fecal sac

Even the tiniest, single feather can be removed during house cleaning. Maybe each parent becomes a “feather duster”.

Altamira Oriole becomes a feather duster

Altamira Oriole becomes a feather duster

Sometimes I only saw a parent bird once in an hour. In the meantime an unexpected visitor searched this elongated masterpiece for insects…the Cinnamon Hummingbird.

Cinnamon Hummingbird inspects Altamira Oriole nest for insects

Cinnamon Hummingbird inspects Altamira Oriole nest for insects

Something else that surprised me was how fast each adult flew into their nest. I’d see one approaching and start depressing my camera shutter before it ever reached the nest. How could a speeding bullet of feathers fly into a nest at a 90 degree angle without plunging or destroying the top of the nest? It didn’t seem to slow down. I shot at 2,000th of a second and still missed it!

Other times, Mom and Dad Oriole were so fast with their special delivery of insects to their brood, they almost flew into each other.

Adult Altamira Orioles almost hit each other as one leaves nest while other arrives as fast food deliverer

Adult Altamira Orioles almost hit each other as one leaves nest while other arrives as fast food deliverer

Mayas call the oriole, Yuya or Yuyum. Maybe that’s how the chicks respond when they are fed. Yu-yum or Yu-yummy!

Go outdoors and ingest your own nature magnificence!

Sound Link: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/45056

 

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species. Here are my resources: Sal a Pajarear Yucatan, Orioles, Blackbirds, and Their Kin,  Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behaviors, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, http://macaulaylibrary.org/ from Cornell Lab of Ornithology,http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Icterus_gularis/

Mexico Travel Care

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  1. Cherie is becoming the Jane Goodall of the Yucatan bird world. Observations are a god way to tie together a lot more than good photography alone. Maybe a tropical bird behavior book is in the making (?). Love it!

  2. Cherie says:

    Thanks, Rainie! One theory is that building a nest at the tip of branches, high off the ground, may reduce predation. The fibers and nest material of the nests are wound many times around branches. In this nest you can even see the use of many threads wrapped around the branches multiple times to hold the nest.

  3. Cherie says:

    Bruce, I’m happy I can keep surprising you…and myself!
    Thanks so much!

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