The Oropéndola is one of Nicaragua’s many attractive bird species, not only because of its large size and conspicuous colouring but also because of its habits. I can hear one as I write this – it’s sonorous, chuckling call – almost like a turkey gobbling – is quite distinctive. When doing their displays, the males tip forwards and spread their wings, often making so much noise that they sound like a monkey crashing through the branches.
Although sometimes we get visits from a few birds, more often they arrive in quite large flocks, which apparently have one dominant male. The Oropéndola nests in flocks too, constructing large, sock-like appendages from branches of a large tree. The nests can be one metre long and transform the appearance of the tree. There are several islets in the lake at Granada which host numbers of such nests, and there is a large tree on the dirt road south of our farm which does the same.
It would be great to have nests on the farm itself, and a couple of years ago birds started to build one on a large, Panama tree in a valley behind the house. It was never completed though. Then this week I noticed another attempt in almost the same place. The beginnings of the nest are shown in the second photo, which also reveals another of the characteristics of this most unusual bird.
The incomplete nest looks like a bunch of grass dangling from a thin branch in the centre left of the shot. Immediately to its right, the round shape hanging from a twig on the same branch is a wasps’ nest. Oropéndolas often build their nests near to wasps, and even on the same branch, so as to deter predators.
The branches in the background are those of the Panama tree where they started to nest last time. It seems though that something has again put them off. We’ll have to keep on watching.
Incidentally, how did this Oropéndola get its distinctive name? It comes from the last of the Aztec emperors, Moctezuma II, who was killed during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The bird is found in Mexico too, and the Aztec influence used to extend to Nicaragua as their language, Nahuatl, was one of those spoken by the indigenous people who were here when the Spanish arrived. However, the connection between the bird and the Aztec ruler otherwise seems tenuous.