Canopy Family Panama

Yellow-tailed Oriole
Icterus mesomelas

Yellow-tailed Oriole Panama Canopy Tower
Photo by Carlos Bethancourt


The Yellow-tailed Oriole is a striking black and yellow bird of Panama’s swampy lowlands. It is easy to identify as it is the only oriole with prominent yellow in the tail. It is a medium-sized oriole (22 cm in length) with a relatively long tail. It has a golden yellow hood, breast, underparts and rump, contrasting with a black bib, back and wings. It has a distinctive yellow “epaulet” on its wings (a band on the lesser and median wing coverts). Its central tail feathers are black and outer tail feathers are yellow, and the tail appears completely yellow if viewed from below. Sexes are similar in appearance. Young birds are similar to the adults, but have olive-green backs instead of solid black.

The Yellow-tailed Oriole is usually found near water, residing in woodland habitats and open areas, swampy lowlands and marshes, shrubby fields and clearings with trees. It is not found in closed canopy forest. It often hides in dense undergrowth, Heliconia stands and thickets, and is often first detected by its sweet song, a series of short, mellow notes, warbles and trills, repeated frequently. It gives a clear “chup-cheer” call. Yellow-tailed Orioles feed primarily on insects, but will also occasionally eat fruits (especially fruits from the Gumbo Limbo Tree) and nectar. Birds usually forage in pairs or small groups. Yellow-tailed Orioles are solitary breeders, unlike some other members of their family. They build a deep but thin nest 2 meters off the ground, usually by a stream and nestled in thorny scrub. Eggs are white with dark blotches. Three eggs are laid per clutch. Eggs hatch in 13 days, and the young fledge at 14 days old. In Panama, the Yellow-tailed Oriole breeds from April to June.

The Yellow-tailed Oriole has a wide distribution in the Neotropics, from southeastern Mexico to northwestern Peru and northwestern Venezuela. In Panama, it is fairly common in the lowlands along the entire Caribbean slope and along the Pacific slope from central Panama eastward. It is found near wetlands around the Canopy Tower and Canopy Camp Darien.

At risk: Yellow-tailed Orioles are highly valued for their beautiful song and appearance, and as a result are captured for the caged bird trade in parts of their range. This has led to population declines of the species, particularly in Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela.

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