Martinique oriole (Icterus bonana)

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Martinique oriole, profile
IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable VULNERABLE

Top facts

  • The Martinique oriole is the only bird species to be endemic to the island of Martinique, in the Caribbean.
  • The Martinique oriole inhabits a range of forest types, but tends to prefer mangroves and dry forest.
  • The nest of the Martinique oriole is a hanging, woven structure that is usually built on the underside of a large leaf.
  • The Martinique oriole feeds on a variety of fruits, berries and insects.
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Martinique oriole fact file

Martinique oriole description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyIcteridae
GenusIcterus (1)

Although Martinique has a rich bird life, the Martinique oriole (Icterus bonana) is the only bird to be endemic to this French island (2) (3). Unlike some other related orioles, which have a black head and neck (4), the adult Martinique oriole is mostly black with a reddish-brown hood and with a reddish-orange rump, shoulders, belly and undertail (2) (4).

The male and female Martinique oriole are similar in appearance, but the male may have slightly brighter colouration than the female (4). When it is still immature, the Martinique oriole is chestnut-coloured on the underparts, with a deeper hue of chestnut on the breast and a dark brown head (5).

One of the defining features of all orioles is their unnotched, conical bill, which is usually pointed and is never much longer than the head (6).

Size
Length: 18 - 21 cm (2)
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Martinique oriole biology

The Martinique oriole mainly forages in the canopy, where it eats fruit, berries and a variety of insects (2) (3). It does not form flocks (3), but still communicates by whistling and by uttering harsh, scolding calls (2). The Martinique oriole also sings a soft, variable, warbling song (8).

Breeding in this species has been recorded from December, but generally starts in February and extends to about July (2) (3). As with related oriole species, the nests of the Martinique oriole look like shallow, woven baskets with a side entrance (5) and are generally built two to four metres above the ground (3), suspended from the underside of a large leaf or from a bunch of leaves at the end of a branch (3) (4) (5).

Once the nest is built, the Martinique oriole usually produces two eggs, or sometimes three (3) (5). These eggs are creamy white with a bluish tinge, and are marked with brown spots at the broad end (5). By mid-July, the eggs have hatched and the breeding pairs are taking care of their new fledglings (3).

The Martinique oriole has not generally been recorded feeding more than 100 metres from its nest, so it seems that this species defends a very small territory in the immediate vicinity of its nesting site (3). In most orioles, it is usually the role of the male to be the guardian of the nest site, while all the family responsibilities, such as feeding and raising the young, are undertaken by the female (6).

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Martinique oriole range

As its name suggests, the Martinique oriole is found on Martinique, a small French island of the Lesser Antilles, in the Caribbean Sea (2). This species is believed to be a sedentary bird which only lives on this one island (7).

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Martinique oriole habitat

Although dry forests and mangroves seem to be its preferred environments, the Martinique oriole has also been found in semi-arid woodlands, humid forests, tree plantations, rural gardens and even urban areas (2) (3) (5) (8). The only forest type it has not been observed in is cloud forest, and virtually all records of this species have been below elevations of 700 metres (3).

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Martinique oriole status

The Martinique oriole is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Martinique oriole threats

Unlike many other bird species, the Martinique oriole does not seem to be directly affected by habitat loss through the conversion of forests to agricultural land (3). However, deforestation has still had a significant side effect on this species, as it allows the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) to proliferate and spread easily (2) (3) (7). This cowbird, a brood parasite, colonised the island in the 1940s (3) and lays its eggs in the Martinique oriole’s nests (2). Up to 75 percent of the oriole nests are parasitised annually by the shiny cowbird, although it has been suggested that a recent decline in the cowbird may be allowing the Martinique oriole to recover slightly (2).

In addition to the threat from the shiny cowbird, the population of the Martinique oriole’s main natural predator, the Carib grackle (Quiscalus lugubris), has increased, so it is very possible that its predation upon the oriole’s eggs and nestlings has increased as well (2) (3).

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Martinique oriole conservation

So far, the Martinique oriole is only protected by domestic legislation. A national decree, put into action in 1989, states that no one can remove, capture, sell, buy, damage or mutilate the eggs, nests or adults of this species (9). The island of Martinique also contains a large natural park, created in 1976 to preserve the island’s biodiversity and to promote sustainable development (10).

Many conservation actions have been proposed to help protect the Martinique oriole. These include studying the current status and distribution of the species, controlling the shiny cowbird population, assessing the effect of the Carib grackle on the oriole population, and avoiding any further deforestation. Other promising ideas include initiating a public awareness campaign, with the focus being on the Martinique oriole’s special status as the island’s only endemic bird (2) (3).

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Find out more

Find out more about the Martinique oriole and its conservation:

Read more about conservation on Martinique:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Brood parasite
An animal that lays its eggs in the nests of members of its own or other species; the host then raises the young as its own.
Cloud forest
A tropical mountain forest with a high incidence of cloud cover throughout the year.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. BirdLife International - Martinique oriole (November, 2012)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=9699
  3. BirdLife International (1992) Martinique oriole Icterus bonana. In: BirdLife International. Threatened Birds of the Americas. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/userfiles/file/Species/AmRDBPDFs/Icterus_bonana_eng.pdf
  4. Neotropical Birds Online - Martinique oriole (July, 2013)
    http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=673676
  5. Garrido, O.H., Wiley, J.W. and Kirkconnell, A. (2005) The genus Icterus in the West Indies. Ornitologia Neotropical, 16(4): 449-470.
  6. Thomson, A.L. (Ed.) (1964) A New Dictionary of Birds. McGraw-Hill, New York.
  7. Lovette, I.J., Bermingham, E. and Ricklefs, R.E. (1999) Mitochondrial DNA phylogeography and the conservation of endangered Lesser Antillean Icterus orioles. Conservation Biology, 13(5): 1088-1096.
  8. Arlott, N. (2010) Birds of the West Indies. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  9. Arrêté du 17 février 1989 fixant des mesures de protection des oiseaux représentés dans le département de la Martinique (November, 2012)
    http://legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000871352
  10. Parc Naturel Régional de la Martinique (November, 2012)
    http://pnr-martinique.com/
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Image credit

Martinique oriole, profile  
Martinique oriole, profile

© Vincent Lemoine

Vincent Lemoine
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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