window spacer


The several species of Amazon oropendola (also spelled "oropendula") are similar in appearance, about the size of a large blackbird (some are smaller), with a pointed conical bill, dark plain plumage (typically chestnut or brown) on the body and wings and yellow on the tail.

The part of the name "oro-" (= "gold" in Spanish) refers to this bright yellow on the tail, which is a distinctive identifier for this group of birds. The bill is usually pale yellow. Some species have a dark green or black bill with a reddish tip.

The oropendola is often heard before it is seen, with a burbling complex musical song.

Click to listen to the song of the russet-backed oropendola Listen to the song of the russet-backed oropendola Click to listen to the song of the russet-backed oropendola
(La Selva Lodge, Sucumbios/Napo, Ecuador)
© Don Jones, 12-07-96, courtesy of Xeno Canto

The 13 oropendola species in all are in the same family as blackbirds and orioles, Icteridae —the most diverse group of birds in the American tropics.

Oropendolas generally prefer areas of scattered, open woodland rather than the forest interior. Some species adapt quite well to human activity, and are common around towns and villages, whereas others have suffered in settled areas. The commonest species in Amazonia is the russet-backed oropendola (Psarocolius angustifrons).

The oropendola feeds on insects, fruit and berries.

The second part of the oropendola's name ("-pendola") refers to their characteristic pendulum-like nests (See photo) or perhaps because of their courtship behavior—swinging around the branch of a tree.

During courtship, the male oropendola perches on a horizontal twig, wrapping his claws around it. He then swings around the branch, until hanging upside down, with his wings spreads, and his yellow tail feathers spread out above. He might swing all the way around the branch, or reverse the motion and flipping back to the top. All the while, he'll be singing his burbling liquid call.

The male display helps to attract females, which usually outnumber them. Among the crested oropendola (P. decumanus), for example, the colony houses as many as five females for each male. In this case, the colony has a dominant male, whose territory is surrounded by lesser males, holding lower quality territory.

The nests of oropendolas are often found in association with wasps' nests. The wasps offer protection for the oropendola young which are attacked by botflies (the maggots of which burrow into the chicks) by parasitizing the botflies. These are the main cause of nestling mortality.

Cowbirds, which are brood parasites, eat the botfly larvae and are thus found nesting in the vicinity of oropendola colonies. (Most birds will not otherwise tolerate a brood parasite, such as a cuckoo, near their nesting area.)

They are colonial breeders, often polygamous. Their colony trees are bedecked with multiple nests, numbering dozens in a single isolated tree, looking like giant fruits. The nests hang from the tip of a branch (truly "out on a limb"!).

The nest is suspended by a few woven strands of palm fiber, which offer minimum purchase for a hungry predator, such as a snake. In Amazonia, breeding takes place year-round among most species, among others it may be seasonal. One or two eggs are the norm for these birds, and are usually marked with dark stripes or spots.

Oropendolas prospects are mixed, depending on the species. Some are decidedly rare, becoming more so as habitat declines due to deforestation and urbanization. Prospects are better for other species that adapt well to habitat alterations caused by human activities.


Wikipedia: Oropendola
Enchanted Learning: Crested Oropendola handout
Honolulu Zoo: Crested oropendola
Arthur Grosset: Green Oropendola
Jan H. Ribot, Birds in Suriname: Crested oropendola
Tropical Rainforest Coalition: Montezuma Oropendola
Xeno Canto: oropendola (recordings of songs)
Animal Diversity Web: Genus Psarocolius
Tree of Life: Psarocolius
Wikispecies: Psarocolius
ITIS: Psarocolius Taxonomy
Jordan, PJ and SM Lanyon (2004) Song and molecular data identify congruent but novel affinities of the Green Oropendola (Psarocolius viridis). The Auk 121(1): 224-229
Jordan, PJ and SM Lanyon (2002) A robust phylogeny of the oropendolas: Polyphyly revealed by mitochondrial sequence data. The Auk 119(2):335-348

Mainly photos tag = oropendola bird
Richard Seaman: Unusual Crested Oropendola Behavior
Avesphoto: Crested Oropendola
Xenospiza: Psarocolius decumanus (male)
NBII Digital Image Library: Crested Oropendola
Bird Stamps: Green oropendola
You Tube: Oropendola nests
Internet Bird Collection: Icteridae videos

Top of page

back to the oropendola nests photo

oropendola nests photo oropendola nest photo

oropendola nests

Back to Amazon animals

© Jungle Photos 2000-2014

window spacer