It’s been raining and drizzling more than is usual for mid-December here in the Central Valley, but today, right now, it’s just pouring – it feels more like a typical October day!
Earlier this morning, around eight o’clock, I heard the unmistakable cry of one of my favorite birds, the Psarocolius montezuma ‘Montezuma oropendola’. These are striking, black birds with bright yellow tail feathers and several distinctive facial markings. Under each eye is a bare skin patch, colored in delicate baby blue and under each skin patch hangs an elongated pink wattle, which can be quite large in males. The strong black beak has a red tip, also. When they fly across the gorge behind our house, passing close by, all you can make out is this black streak with a glowing yellow rear end.
But most remarkable about the Oropendola, aside from their highly interesting nesting behavior and elegant appearance, is their call. They produce a distinctive gurgling sound, unique to them – as far as I know, at least. The link gets you to gurgle recordings.
I have to admit that I slept in this morning, having read a Kate Shugak novel far too late into the night and was having a cup of coffee to wake up, when I heard Oropendola calls. I grabbed my camera and hastened outside in the front yard in my billowy, white night gown. Motecuhzoma’s pretty black birds often take a break from zipping above the treetops in one of the two Guanacaste trees right across the street from us. Today they had chosen a different Guanacaste, though, maybe 60 or 70 meters further away from my front hedge. There were two Montezuma oropendolas perched in the tree. A male to the left and a female, high up in the crown on the opposite side of the Guanacaste. As I was trying to zero in on the male, hampered by distance and drizzle, he started a typical display behavior, which I had seen several times, but not had a chance to capture before.
The bird throws his body forward and downward very abruptly, neck extended and his long yellow tail feathers thrust skyward as far as possible, all the while gurgling furiously. It’s a kind of suicide approach to courting. How he manages to hang on to the branch, I don’t know. They must have very strong toes!