Icterus croconotus

Geographic Range

Orange-backed troupials are native to western and central South America. Two subspecies are recognized, which are Icterus croconotus croconotus and Icterus croconotus strictifrons. Icterus croconotus croconotus occupies a zone starting from the Amazonian range in northwest Brazil and across to southeastern Peru. Icterus croconotus strictifrons is found in Bolivia, northern Argentina, and the state of Mato Grosso in southwestern Brazil. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Omland, et al., 1999)


Orange-backed troupials show an obvious preference for open spaces. They spend most of their time high up in trees or near the edges of rivers and lakes. However, they are generally not found in regions lacking forests. Orange-backed troupials can also be found along roadsides due to recent deforestation. I. c. croconotus prefer swampy areas such as the Amazonia region in northwest Brazil, and is found along the edge of forests. In contrast, I. c. strictifrons is found far from water, occupying dry areas or slightly moist forest edges. For example, this subspecies lives in is the Paraguayan Chaco, a semi-arid region in Paraguay. Orange-backed troupials live at elevations from 500 m to 750 m. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Ridgely and Tudor, 1989; Ridgely and Tudor, 2009)

  • Range elevation
    500 (low) m
    1640.42 (low) ft

Physical Description

Orange-backed troupials are easily identifiable due to their striking orange, black, and white plumage. They have orange backs, and the back of the neck and crown are orange as well. The patch of bare blue skin around their eyes is smaller than that of campo troupials (Icterus jamacaii) or Venezuelan troupials (Icterus icterus), to which they are related. Juvenile I. c. croconotus in their first year of life is roughly similar in appearance to adults, except for some brown feathers instead of black on the wings and tail. Fledging I. c. croconotus is also similar to adults, but with duller coloring. Orange feathers of juveniles are paler than those of the adults, feathers are brown instead of black, and eyes are darker. Male and female orange-backed troupials are similar to one another, which uncommon among tropical birds. The brightness of feathers is the same, and breast feathers have the same measurements. Orange-backed troupials have a wingspan of 106.5 mm on average. (Hoffman, et al., 2008; Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Ridgely and Tudor, 1989)

I. c. croconotus has a black forehead, throat, and tail. The upper breast is black while the lower breast is orange. The nape, sides of the neck, and crown are orange as well. The back is strikingly orange, while the lower back and rump are a more faded orange-yellow. Wings are black and patterned with orange and white. Like campo troupials, I. c. croconotus has pointed throat feathers. Bills are black and eyes are yellow or orange eyes. I. c. strictifrons is similar to I. c. croconotus but has more white patches on its wings and less black on its forehead. A group of I. c. strictifrons found in the Paraguayan Chaco differ slightly in their morphology. Members of this group may have a black band on their backs, less orange on their wings, and a different amount of black on their back and crown. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

  • Other Physical Features
  • homoiothermic
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average wingspan
    106.5 mm
    4.19 in


Like other members of Icterus, orange-backed troupials are thought to be socially monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds. (Price, et al., 2009)

Orange-backed troupials breed seasonally, and the timing of the nesting season varies depending on the region. They are obligate nest pirates, stealing and then occupying nests previously built by other species. They make necessary modifications before laying and incubating their eggs. They prefer nests built by yellow-rumped caciques (Cacicus cela), which are another species of blackbird. In eastern Ecuador and northern Bolivia, they begin to establish nests between September and November. This is the time when yellow-rumped caciques have finished nesting, which allows orange-backed troupials to move into their abandoned nests. In eastern Peru, they establish their nests during the same time as the nesting season of yellow-rumped caciques, which is July to February. It is common practice for orange-backed troupials to force several female yellow-rumped caciques out from their nests, creating a collection of empty nests to choose from. This technique may be a protective tactic because predators finding a few empty nests are more likely to leave before discovering an orange-backed troupial nest. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Aside from nesting, reproductive behavior of orange-backed troupials is not well understood. However, closely related Venezuelan troupials produce 3 eggs that fledge in 21 to 23 days and travel with their families after leaving the nest. Reproductive behavior of orange-backed troupials is expected to be similar. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Orange-backed troupials breed seasonally.
  • Breeding season
    Depending on location, can be July to February or beginning in September and November.

Little is known about the extent of parental investment in this species, but both sexes of the closely related species such as Venezuelan troupials are involved in parental care. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
    • protecting


No information is available about the lifespan of the orange-backed troupials.


Orange-backed troupials are usually found alone or in mating pairs. Pairs perch up high in trees and perform easily-recognizable duets. While singing, they raise their crown feathers. Their behavior is similar to Venezuelan troupials, but remains under tree cover more often, especially in humid regions. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Home Range

Orange-backed troupials are not known to migrate seasonally or change locations. They are likely territorial to some degree, but the size of the territory or home range is not known. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Orange-backed troupials communicate through song. Their most common song has three notes, the first two of which are high notes and the last is low. They also sing the same song with two notes. Their song sounds like "tree-tur" or "cheer-to," and often is proceeded by a soft, introductory note. Mating pairs often sing duets, which are singing the same song in sync with one another. The tunes are harmonized so well that it nearly impossible to distinguish which mate sings which part. Unlike campo troupials, they make little noise aside from their song. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Food Habits

The diet of orange-backed troupials is primarily composed of fruit, nectar from flowers, and insects. They like the nectar from the Tabebuia flower. They usually search through dead leaves for insects.

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • nectar


Some hawks (Accipiter) likely attack adults, and a range of birds, mammals and reptiles likely prey on eggs and nestlings. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Ecosystem Roles

As orange-backed troupials search for fruit and ingest nectar, they may contribute to seed dispersal and pollination.

Orange-backed troupials are nest pirates to yellow-rumped caciques. They are hosts for shiny cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis), which lay eggs in their nests in hopes that the parent orange-backed troupials will feed and care for shiny cowbird young. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates
Species Used as Host
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Like its close relatives, orange-backed tropuials are commonly captured for cage birds, so they are part of the pet trade. (Restall, et al., 2006)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of orange-backed troupials on humans.

Conservation Status

Orange-backed troupials have a very large range and relatively secure habitat. Although their population is decreasing and their population is not yet quantified, they are listed as "Least Concern" by the IUCN Red List. They are uncommon to locally common in their range. (BirdLife International 2012, 2012; Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Other Comments

Orange-backed troupials are New World orioles, and part of the same genus as the North American Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula). Orange-backed troupials are members of a super species of related taxa, which includes campo troupials from eastern Brazil and the Venezuelan troupials from northern South America. Together these three closely related species make up the troupial complex. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were described as three distinct species. Later, they were all grouped together as one species called “troupials". Since the 1990s, they are once again classified as three separate species. (Omland, et al., 1999)


Leila Bahmani Kazerooni (author), University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Kevin Omland (editor), University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects, Laura Podzikowski (editor), Special Projects.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism


Having one mate at a time.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


BirdLife International 2012, 2012. "Icterus croconotus" (On-line). IUCN Red List. Accessed October 10, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/160032483/0.

Hoffman, C., T. Cronin, K. Omland. 2008. Evolution of Sexual Dichromatism. 1. Convergent Losses of Elaborate Female Coloration in New World Orioles (Icterus spp.). The Auk, 125: 783-785.

Jaramillo, A., P. Burke. 1999. New World Blackbirds: The Icterids. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Omland, K., S. Lanyon, S. Fritz. 1999. A Molecular Phylogeny of the New World Orioles (Icterus): The Importance of Dense Taxon Sampling. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 12/2: 235.

Price, J., K. Omland, S. Lanyon. 2009. Losses of female song with changes from tropical to temperate breeding in the New World blackbirds. Proceedings of The Royal Society Biology, 276: 1971.

Restall, R., C. Rodner, M. Lentino. 2006. Birds of Northern South America: An Identification Guide. United States: Yale University Press.

Ridgely, R., G. Tudor. 2009. Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America: The Passerines. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Ridgely, R., G. Tudor. 1989. The Birds of South America. United States of America: University of Texas Press.