In terms of their behaviors and lifestyles, Hispaniolan orioles belong to one of the most diverse of avian families (Icteridae). In this group, we find the New World orioles, whose genus Icterus, comes to us from the ancient Greek íkteros, meaning yellow. Like many other orioles, Hispaniolan orioles sport jet-black plumage with yellow patches on their shoulders, rump and undertail. In contrast, juveniles have olive-yellow body feathers with darker wings and a black or dark reddish throat. This broad variation in color between adult and juvenile orioles of the same species has been an enduring source of fascination for scientists seeking to understand the role of color in the evolution of plumage patterns in birds.
The oriole’s colors have also inspired eminent artists, including John James Audubon, and poets Ramón Emilio Jiménez and Emily Dickinson – who refers to them as “the ones that Midas touched.” The Hispaniolan Oriole was initially grouped with the orioles of Cuba, Bahamas and Puerto Rico as a single species (Icterus dominicensis). However, in 2005, experts documented key differences in behavior, plumage, song and morphology that merited separation into four distinct species.
The Hispaniolan oriole kept the original scientific name since it was the first to be described. The Hispaniolan oriole may be found from the coast up to 1,100 meters in elevation, where palms are present, including in humid forests and shade coffee plantations. Today, we may find cheery flocks of as many as 50 orioles in mangroves and coastal areas dominated by palms. The birds can be seen fluttering and hopping on tree tops in their search for fruits, flowers and small insects, which they capture with their sturdy, pointed beaks. Despite the reputation of other Antillean orioles for their frequent and loud songs, the Hispaniolan oriole’s song is a rather feeble series of high-pitched whistles, seldom heard, but if so, usually at dawn. The best clue to this species’ presence is its harsh chur-rrchurr- rr or check call described as “not unpleasant”.
“And what a beautiful sight is a flock of Hispaniolan orioles, with their black and yellow plumage, hopping from branch to branch! Their colors against the blue sky are an unforgettable memory.” Anabelle Stockton de Dod
“Songbird of the mayares golden songbird of grey and gold which nibbles the sugar-apples songbird of my country your crazy flight carries you and merry you go your crazy flight carries you and merry you go” Ramón Emilio Jiménez
Between March and June, the female lays 3 to 4 light blue, speckled eggs in their remarkable hanging nest.270 Like others in the icterid family, the Hispaniolan oriole skillfully weaves a pendulous, basket-shaped nest, often hanging in a palm or banana tree, drawing the admiration of observers who have praised them as true works of art.271,272 Naturalists have documented instances of oriole nests being parasitized by the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis), a bird of South American origin that lays its eggs in the nests of other species. Those species then act as unwitting hosts, incubating the cowbird eggs and raising the imposter chicks as their own. This brood parasitism, as it is called, coupled with the loss of a large proportion of their preferred habitat, has been associated with a decline in Hispaniolan oriole populations since the 1930s.