Photo: Greg Lasley/Vireo

Altamira Oriole

Icterus gularis

This big tropical oriole is common in northeastern Mexico, but was not found in our area until 1939. It has since become common year-round in native woods of far southern Texas. It may go unseen at times as it forages in dense trees, but it draws attention with its harsh fussing callnotes. Even before the bird is heard or seen, an observer may notice its oversized nest, a pouch up to two feet long hanging from the end of a branch.
Conservation status Has become more common in Texas within last half-century. Farther south, remains widespread and common. Perhaps less affected by cowbird parasitism than some orioles.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Open tropical woodland and edges. In our area, resident mostly in native woodland near Rio Grande in southern Texas. Farther south in Mexico and Central America, widespread in lowlands and lower foothills in open dry woods, forest edge, streamside groves, scattered trees in open country; usually avoids unbroken humid forest.
This big tropical oriole is common in northeastern Mexico, but was not found in our area until 1939. It has since become common year-round in native woods of far southern Texas. It may go unseen at times as it forages in dense trees, but it draws attention with its harsh fussing callnotes. Even before the bird is heard or seen, an observer may notice its oversized nest, a pouch up to two feet long hanging from the end of a branch.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • immature (first year)
  • adult
  • adult in nest
Feeding Behavior

Forages rather slowly and deliberately in trees, mostly high but also in low undergrowth, searching for insects. Will come to feeders for sugar-water and sometimes for other items.


Eggs

4-6, or fewer in southern part of range. Pale bluish white, blotched with black and lavender. Incubation behavior poorly known, probably lasts about 2 weeks. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Diet

Mostly insects and berries. Diet is not known in detail; feeds on many insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, and caterpillars, also ants and many others, plus spiders. Also feeds on berries and small fruits, including those of hackberries and figs.


Nesting

In Texas, breeds mostly from late April to late July. Nest: Placed quite conspicuously out at the end of a horizontal branch of a tree, averages about 30' up, can be 10-80' above the ground. In the tropics, nest may be suspended from telephone wires. Nest is a very long hanging bag or pouch (with the entrance at the top), up to 2' long, woven of Spanish moss, grass, palm fibers, weeds, strips of bark; lined with plant down, hair, or feathers. Probably built by female; the process may take 3 weeks or more.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Series of loud whistles and harsh chatters.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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