Hispaniolan Spindalis (Spindalis dominicensis)

Beyond bestowing this bird’s striking beauty, its brilliant, contrasting feathers make the Hispaniolan spindalis utterly unmistakable. As its Spanish name, cigüa amarilla, suggests, its body feathers are vivid yellow, contrasting sharply with the black, white and brown stripes on its wings. Above and below each eye, additional stripes accent its black hea d. This plumage inspired the original name, stripe-headed Tanager, for all four of what were then Spindalis sub-species. The closest relative of our own spindalis is Puerto Rico’s spindalis portoricensis, which is that island’s national bird. Its common name there is Reina Mora, or Moorish Queen, which in the Andalusian tradition is understood as beautiful woman. Ultimately this is something of a misnomer, since in the genus spindalis, it is the male that displays the beautiful contrasting colors – as the Hisp aniolan species makes especially evident.

The Hispaniolan spindalis is a medium-sized tanager. It moves extensively throughout its forest habitat, in search of the wild fruit crops on which it primarily feeds. Its diet also includes insects, flower buds and young leaves. Eating leaves, also known as folivory, is relatively rare in birds, likely because of the leaves’ low nutritional value and poor digestibility.

The Hispaniolan spindalis is a medium-sized tanager. It moves extensively throughout its forest habitat, in search of the wild fruit crops on which it primarily feeds. Its diet also includes insects, flower buds and young leaves. Eating leaves, also known as folivory, is relatively rare in birds, likely because of the leaves’ low nutritional value and poor digestibility.

LC Least concern

Conservation status

Both the Cuban and Puerto Rican, spindalis species have been reported living in urban areas, sometimes feeding on ornamental garden plants. Thus, some speculate that, at least in Puerto Rico, folivory allows spindalis to survive even where there are few fruits, giving them an advantage in adapting to changing environments. However, thus far, the Hispaniolan spindalis is known to inhabit only mountain forests (humid broadleaf and pine) above 700 meters in elevation. Luckily for birdwatchers, it is a very active bird, so it is not difficult to see in its favored habitat. Apparently this species must eat throughout the day because it lacks a crop in its digestive tract, which means it cannot store food as other birds do.The Hispaniolan spindalis often reveals its presence with its distinctive rapid staccato chatter, usually given in flight.

“Its colors are so bright that it is impossible not to see it.” Anabelle Stockton de Dod

Its dawn song is a thin, high-pitched warble. Pairs may nest more than once each year, typically laying 2 to 3 eggs per clutch in a small cup-shaped nest constructed of grasses. Some of the f ruits that this bird favors are from dominant upper canopy trees of the humid forest, including palo de sable and palo de viento (genus Schefflera). By eating these fruits and dispersing the seeds, the Hispaniolan spindalis plays a vital ecological role that is critical to maintaining and restoring our native forests.