Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bulletin 194 - Panama #5 - blackbirds and howlers

The icterids are a new world family of birds, popularly called the blackbirds. They include many familiar species including blackbirds, grackles, orioles, cowbirds and meadowlarks. However, crows are not in that family.

The Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) is a 9" cowbird that has a range from southeast USA to South America. The male is glossy black with a dark eye. The female is dull brownish.

Shiny Cowbird - male
Caciques are larger birds who build long hanging nests like orioles. The Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela) is 11" long. The sexes are similar. It is unmistakable with its pale bill, blue eye, yellow rump and vent and black body.

Yellow-rumped Cacique

Oropendolas are larger cousins of the caciques and build even longer hanging nests, some may be 3 feet long. The Chestnut-headed Oropendola (Psarocolius wagleri) is 14" long with brown head, and rump, black body, yellow tail and large pale bill and a blue eye.

Chestnut-headed Oropendola
The Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus) is much larger at 17" long. The head and body are all black except for the brown vent and rump. The tail is yellow. The bill is whitish. He has a wispy crest.
Crested Oropendola

Here is a bird building the nest.

Crested Oropendola
The Yellow-backed Oriole (Icterus chrysater) is 7.5" long with a yellow body, black face and throat, wings and tail. The sexes are similar

Yellow-backed Oriole
Compare this to the Yellow-tailed Oriole (Icterus mesomelas) which is an inch longer. This bird has a black back and yellow tail.

Yellow-tailed Oriole
Most people in the USA and Canada are familiar with the Red-winged Blackbird. The male is black with a red shoulder patch that often is hidden. Well here is the stunning Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris) of South America. It is a small bird at 6.5" long. The male is shown here and is not an ID problem. The female is streaked brownish. It is the same genus as our meadowlarks.

Red-breasted Blackbird

The Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) is the largest monkey in Panama. They weigh up to 22 pounds. We heard them several times and on one lucky day, a troop of about 30 animals crossed our path. Here is one just chilling out on a branch.

Mantled Howler Monkey
We saw several babies carried by the parents. Here are an adult and baby.

Mantled Howler Monkey

A moment later, the baby rolled over on his back and scratched his back on the tree. It was fun to watch.

Mantled Howler Monkey
We even saw a newborn. This little guy was less than 24 hours old according to our guide. His mother was upside down and he was clinging to her chest. He was struggling to get to her nipple to nurse.

Mantled Howler Monkey
Lastly, as a physician, if I can detect an injury or illness in wildlife, I find it fascinationg. This large male was one of the first of the monkeys we saw. He had a large 'hole' on his neck. I thought it was a bullet hole, as the indians do eat these monkeys but probably not in this area of Panama where we were. Anyway, the guide said it was caused from a worm. I did the research and it is botfly larvae burrowed into the skin. Looking at the rest of the photos, I saw several more lumps on other monkeys, but none had a gaping hole like this guy on the right side of his neck. If you look closely on the left side of his neck, it looks like a large lump that is probably another infestation.

Mantled Howler Monkey
with Botfly larva hole

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2014 David McDonald

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