Icterus leucopteryxJamaican oriole

Geographic Range

Jamaican orioles (Icterus leucopteryx) are chiefly found on the island of Jamaica, although subspecies are also found on the island of San Andrés and were formerly found on Grand Cayman. Each subspecies is restricted to their respective island. Jamaican orioles are not closely related to other Caribbean members of their genus, but rather to Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) and other members of the "Northern Oriole" group. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Omland, et al., 1999)


Similar to many other island birds, Jamaican orioles are not particular about their habitat. They are found throughout Jamaica in different types of forests including lowland and subtropical forests, they may also be found in woodlands. True to their undemanding nature, this species can also be found in gardens; however, they rarely ever make their home in mangroves.

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2,256 m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

Jamaican orioles are medium-sized birds with a long, thick bill, which probably facilitates their foraging behavior. These birds are distinctive due to their olive-yellow coloration, as they are the only oriole species with this particular hue. Adults of both genders have bills that are black on the upper mandible and grey on the lower mandible. Their eyes are dark brown. Black coloration can be seen on their lores and around their eyes. This coloration continues on their ear patches, chin, throat and upper breast, creating the impression of a black bib and mask. The rest of their face, crown, neck, mantle, rump, upper-tail coverts and underparts, excluding the bib, are olive-yellow. The intensity of this hue is not uniform on an adult oriole; instead, it is more yellow on their belly and olive on their head. Jamaican orioles that reside in Jamaica are more olive and less yellow than their counterpart in San Andrés and the now extinct subspecies in Grand Cayman. Their wings are mainly black with a white patch created by the lesser, median and greater coverts. The coloration of males and females is similar, which is typical of tropical orioles, although females are generally duller. The coloration of juveniles has caused confusion among birders as it resembles female and immature Baltimore and orchard orioles due to the absence of the white wing patch and black tail, characteristic of adult Jamaican orioles. (Hofmann, et al., 2008; Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    34 to 42 g
    1.20 to 1.48 oz
  • Range wingspan
    10.3 (low) cm
    4.06 (low) in


Jamaican orioles are thought to be socially monogamous. Their breeding season begins in March and ends in August. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Their nest is a suspended basket composed of Spanish moss, fibers from palm leaves, horsehair and strong fibers extracted from other plants, dodder plants in particular. Their nest is apparently built by both parents. Unlike other Caribbean orioles, Jamaican orioles do not weave attachments of the nest to the palm leaves; rather, they suspend the nest from a palm frond or another branch. Their clutch size ranges from 3 to 5 eggs that have a white background and dark brown markings. Their nest may host invading shiny cowbirds. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Jamaican orioles are solitary breeders.
  • Breeding season
    Their breeding season lasts five months, from March to August.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5

Both parents build nests and feed young.


There is little or no published information on the lifespan of Jamaican orioles.


This species is quite well-known, partially due to their affection for gardens. They can be observed alone, in pairs or in family groups. They tend to perch high in the top of trees and sing. They feed on a variety of fruits and insects.

Home Range

The Jamaican subspecies can be found throughout the island in all forest types and gardens. However, their specific home range size has not been reported. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Both male and female Jamaican orioles produce a similar song. Likewise, the females of most tropical orioles and other icterids sing. Their song consists of 2 to 3 musical, modulated whistles, similar to the song of Baltimore orioles, only softer. Their call is a single or 2-note whistle or a short chatter. From October through June their song is different, it sounds like "Auntie Atie", but singing is more prevalent between February and March. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Price, et al., 2009; Raffaele, et al., 1998)

Food Habits

The diet of Jamaican orioles consists of fruit, nectar and insects. They have been known to eat a wide variety of fruits such as oranges, papayas, pimentos, custard apples and bananas. This diet preference likely explains their nickname on the islands, 'banana katies'. Jamaican orioles utilize a bark-flaking technique, in addition to probing, to obtain about two-thirds of their diet, which consists of insects. The use of the bark-flaking technique is particular to the species and could possibly account for its rather thick bill. This species forages in pairs and family groups. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999)

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


There is little or no published information on the predation of this species; however, bird and reptile species are likely nest predators, eating their eggs and nestlings.

Ecosystem Roles

Jamaican orioles are frugivorous and likely aid in the dispersal of seeds. They are also insectivorous and may aid in pest control for Jamaican coffee crops. By hosting the offspring of shiny cowbirds and acting as prey to a number of nest predators, these birds play an important part in the ecosystem. (Johnson, et al., 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates
Species Used as Host

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

As a distinctive island endemic, Jamaican orioles are a draw to birders worldwide. In addition to attracting eco-tourists to the island, orioles also play a role in natural pest control and pollination.

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • pollinates crops
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is little or no published information on the negative impacts of Jamaican orioles on human populations.

Conservation Status

There is already an extinct subspecies formerly found on Grand Cayman. The subspecies from Jamaica enjoys a fairly stable environment in their island home. However, the small size of San Andres suggests that the subspecies on that island could be quite vulnerable to severe hurricanes or major land use changes.

Other Comments

Based on mitochondrial DNA evidence, Jamaican orioles are most closely related to orange orioles from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. These two species are in a larger group ("Clade C") that includes Baltimore orioles and several other mainland species especially in North American and Mexico. Shiny cowbirds began to expand outside their South American range as early as 1900. This dispersion into the Caribbean was greatly aided by the deforestation of the area. The subspecies I. l. bairdi, which was found was on the island of Grand Cayman, was last seen in the 1960s. Even though I.l.leucopteryx in Jamaica is fairly common, it is poorly studied and there is insufficient information about the species. Their subspecies are restricted to their island homes. The subspecies I. l. leucopteryx is found in Jamaica, I. l. lawrencii in San Andres and the now extinct I. l. bairdi in Grand Cayman. (Omland, et al., 1999)


Whitney Phipps (author), University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Kevin Omland (editor), University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


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

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

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.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


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


uses sight to communicate


Christie, D. 2011. Handbook of Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Ediciones.

Hofmann, C., T. Cronin, K. Omland. 2008. Evolution of Sexual Dichromatism. 1. Convergent Losses of Elaborate Female Coloration in New World Orioles. The Auk, 125 (4): 778-789.

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

Johnson, M., J. Kellerman, A. Stercho. 2009. Pest reduction services by birds in shade and sun coffee in Jamaica. Animal Conservation, 13: 142.

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: 224-239.

Price, J., S. Lanyon, K. Omland. 2009. Losses of female song with changes from tropical to temperate breeding in the New World blackbirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B. Biological Sciences, 276: 1971-1980.

Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, J. Raffaele. 1998. A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. London: Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd.