Archive | 12:59 pm

4th Bird of Christmas: Montezuma Oropendola

29 Dec

Image courtesy of Paulo Philippidis from San Jose California, USA via Wikimedia Commons.

As we approach ever closer to the dawn of a new year, today’s bird is a nice one to follow yesterday’s, as both are associated with time. Just as the Motmot’s tail switches in a pendulum-like motion, so the Montezuma Oropendola does a pendulum-like somersault around a branch with its entire body, which earns it the moniker “Golden Pendulum.”

As if this crazy motion were not enough, what’s really incredible about Psarocolius Montezuma is the call the dominant male makes when he’s doing his acrobatic bowing display, sort of a bubbling warble with loud gurgles that climaxes in a shrill scream. It’s indescribable, but here’s the bird experts’ attempt: “The strange and remarkable song of the Montezuma Oropendola is an ascending series of overlapping bubbly syllables which crescendo to a high peak. The song is often accompanied by a scratchy call that is reminiscent of a fizzling firecracker or the ripping of a thick fabric (Stiles & Skutch 1989).” This bird wins my prize for the most amazing call I have ever heard. I think it would be virtually impossible for a human to emulate it.

Frances Figart

These birds are colonial breeders. Using fibers and vines, the female Oropendola creates a bag-like nest 2-6 feet long that hangs from the end of a tree branch; they like to place many nests together on the same tree. There are generally about 30 nests in a colony, but up to 172 have been recorded. The more nests on the same branch, the more risky the baby Oropendola rearing becomes because the entire colony could come crashing down from the weight. Scientists suspect the nest clusters allow the females to more easily protect each other’s nurseries and to gang up on visiting predators.

This video provides a great feel for what it sounds like to be in their presence, and shows you the pendulum-like nests made by the females. Here is another video that demonstrates the acrobatics of the male.

I got to see this bird a handful of times, mostly up in the mountains near the Turrialba Volcano, but never got excellent photographs – so I share only one of mine above. I know that my next trip to Costa Rica will be planned to include some time in the Caribbean lowlands where I can see and hear these amazing birds – and shoot some videos of them.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Smith of Seascape Kayak Tours