Elaborate nest construction uses a variety of materials

BY ANITA WESTERVELT

SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR

Ash trees seem to shed most of their leaves with the first fall wind event, revealing what might previously have been hidden — like the magnificent architecture of an Altamira oriole’s nest.

The female Altamira oriole builds an interesting and elaborate nest, sometimes taking as many as three weeks or more to construct it. Nests have been found that measure from 14 to 26 inches in length and about 6 inches in diameter. The Altamira oriole is the largest of the North American orioles, and it builds the longest nest of any bird in North America.

The top of the nest hangs open with a portion woven around a branch, generally near the tip, at a mid to high level of a tree. Many Altamira oriole nests are conspicuous, and are sometimes built on overhead utility wires.

Nest materials, according to Sharon Beals in her book, “Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them,” are thickly woven out of fibrous materials, such as long vines and palm fibers, the inner bark of trees, grasses and other plants, aerial roots of epiphytes, long leaves, flax, horsehair and even string, plastic twine and other refuse from human occupation.

The nesting chamber is at the bottom of the structure, it is usually lined with loose straw, wool, feathers or other soft material. Two typical Rio Grande Valley trees used by Altamira orioles for nest building are Mexican ash and sugar hackberry.

The Valley is the top of the range of this tropical oriole which is common in northeastern Mexico, the Mexican Gulf Coast and northern Central America. It is a yearround resident in the Valley, most notably in the lower area.

Altamira orioles are often seen as a flash of brilliant orange, hopping among branches and quickly flying between trees. They forage with other orioles, such as hooded orioles, a summer resident of the Valley. Hooded orioles weave a nest the size and shape of a teacup, onto the fronds of a palm.

In Texas, Altamira orioles breed from April to late July. The young stay in the nest about two weeks and are fed by both parents. The male will take over feeding the first brood while the female begins constructing a second nest, if there will be a second brood that season. Nests typically are not re-used.

The Altamira oriole’s diet is mostly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars and ants and spiders. They also feed on berries and small fruits, including hackberry fruit and figs. They will drink flower nectar and have been known to visit feeders for sugar-water.

The Internet offers a number of sites for researching birds, including allaboutbirds. org, adubon.orgwhatbird.comebird.orgbirds.cornell.edu and tstbba.tamu.edu.

If you’re a fan of collective bird nouns, whatbird.com offers two that are used for groups of orioles: a pitch of orioles or a split of orioles. Enter “collective bird nouns” in your search engine for links to fun facts and information about nouns to use for groups of other birds.