Last Updated: Jan 30, 2013
Montezuma oropendolas are one of Costa Rica's most iconic bird species because of their unique call. A melodic warble, this birdsong contains conversational gurgles and bubbles, and is a key element to the species' mating ritual. Howell and Webb, two renowned ornithologists, describe the oropendola's song as unforgettable.
Scientific Name: Psarocolius montezuma
Status in the Wild: Common
Habitat: Cloud Forests, Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests
Its name in both English and Spanish give tribute to the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. The word oropendola is derived from the term gold pendulum, referring to the bird's bright yellow tail, and its unusual habit of bowing forward (often completing a complete flip on a branch) as part of an elaborate courtship display.
The term oropendola also hints at the species' unique nest: a narrow woven basket that hangs high in tree branches. The oropendola are quite adept at weaving vines to create their pendulous nests, which are securely anchored away from potential predators.
Adult males are much larger than females (average 20 inches in length) and sport dark chests and rumps, pink wattles, black and orange beaks, and white, featherless cheek patches. Females have similar coloration, with a smaller wattle. The diet of the Montezuma oropendola primarily consists of fruits, but the birds also eat small vertebrates, insects, flowers and nectar.
The Montezuma oropendola is a New World species that ranges from southern Mexico through central Panama. In Costa Rica, they are common in the Caribbean lowlands and along the Caribbean slope, as well as in parts of the Central Valley and north Pacific mountain cordilleras up to 5,000 feet. Montezuma oropendola are most often spotted in La Selva Biological Station, Rara Avis, in the Central Valley, and around Arenal.
This avian species favors forest canopy, old plantations, gardens and forest edges. Their nests – conical structures of constructed of woven branches and vines – are easily identified and often hang in clusters of 30 or more.
Their breeding season runs from January through May. As colonial breeders, Montezuma oropendola form family groups headed by one dominant male. This male participates in a complicated mating ritual known as the bowing display, after which he mates with most or all females in the colony. Females lay two eggs that hatch in approximately 15 days. Fledglings leave the nest after 30 days.
Status in the Wild:
Montezuma oropendola are considered a species of least concern, and are one of the most commonly spotted birds in Costa Rica. However, like many animal species, they have suffered from habitat loss and are forced to adapt to a changing landscape.