Icterus melanopsisCuban oriole

Geographic Range

Cuban orioles are endemic to the island of Cuba in the Caribbean. They are locally common throughout the island and can be found everywhere from local forests to human gardens. The species is found on main island of Cuba and the neighboring Isla de Pinos. These populations are very similar and are both classified as Cuban orioles. (Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkconnel, 2005; Jaramillo and Burke, 1999) (Garrido, et al., 2005; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999)


Cuban orioles are capable of living in a variety of habitats present throughout Cuba including dense forests, plantations and human habitats. Cuban orioles nest in palm and banana trees and prefer to forage in coral trees. (Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkonnel, 2005; Jarmillo and Burke 1999; Sturge et al., 2009) (Garrido, et al., 2005; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999; Sturge, et al., 2009)

  • Range elevation
    0 (low) m
    0.00 (low) ft

Physical Description

Cuban oriole adults are black all around with a blue grey patch on the lower mandible, and yellow patches on the coverts, rump, and upper thigh. Until 2010 the Cuban oriole was grouped with Puerto Rican (Icterus portoricensis), Bahama(Icterus northropi), and Hispaniola (Icterus dominicensis) orioles into a single species, Greater Antillean orioles. Out of these four species, Cuban orioles have the most black feathers, a fact which is illustrated by the prefix of the scientific name Icterus melanopsis: “melan-“ refers to melanin and means black or dark. (Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkonnel, 2005; Jarmillo and Burke 1999; Omland, Lanyon, and Fritz, 1999; Sturge et al., 2009;)

Similar to most oriole species, Cuban orioles display delayed plumage maturation. When in the fledgling stage Cuban orioles have an olive color around the head which fades to yellow near the rump and tail. After becoming independent, immature Cuban orioles retain most of their juvenile feathers but grow black feathers around their throat. Molting between juvenile, immature, and adult plumages occurs mainly in September or October. The Cuban oriole, and tropical orioles in general, display very little sexual dimorphism as both sexes look alike as juveniles and adults. (Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkconnel, 2005; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999; Hofmann, Cronin, and Omland, 2008; Price and Hayes, 2009) (Hofmann, et al., 2008; Omland, et al., 1999; Price and Hayes, 2009; Sturge, et al., 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range wingspan
    82 to 102 mm
    3.23 to 4.02 in
  • Average wingspan
    94 mm
    3.70 in


Cuban orioles are likely socially monogamous, and they could pair long term or for life as in several other tropical orioles. (Campbell et al., 2016; Odom, 2016) (Campbell, et al., 2016; Odom, 2016)

The Cuban oriole nesting season apparently lasts from February to July, during which the orioles build hanging basket-shaped nests out of stringy, fibrous materials on the underside of palm fronds and banana tree leaves. Clutch size is usually three eggs, which appear greenish-white with grey or olive spots and scrawl. While some orioles may not nest until reaching adult plumage, immature Cuban orioles have been spotted nesting. As with many other tropical birds, Cuban oriole pairs may maintain their territory year round and protect the nest site from predators during the nesting season. (Campbell, et al., 2016; Odom, 2016; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999) (Campbell, et al., 2016; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999; Odom, 2016)

  • Breeding interval
    Cuban orioles seem to have a discrete breeding season. It is not known if they are single brooded or multiple brooded.
  • Breeding season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-independence


There is little information available on the lifespan or longevity of Cuban orioles.


Cuban orioles are not shy and are frequently seen foraging in coral trees. There is no knowledge of the exact size of Cuban oriole territories and there is no evidence of a social hierarchy within Cuban oriole populations. As mentioned elsewhere, research is needed on many aspects of their behavior and ecology, including whether they pair long term and/or maintain year-round territories. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Campbell et al. 2016) (Campbell, et al., 2016; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999)

Home Range

Very little is known about the home range of Cuban orioles. However, most other tropical orioles hold year round territories so it is likely that the Cuban oriole does so as well. (Odom 2016; Campbell et al. 2016) (Campbell, et al., 2016; Odom, 2016)

Communication and Perception

The Cuban orioles have both a long and short song. The long song is about 3 seconds with 11-12 notes, while the short song is about two seconds with 5-6 notes. These notes are similar to that of the Puerto Rican oriole but are lower in frequency. The Cuban oriole call consists of a sharp chip and a nasal wheenk. (Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkconnel, 2005; Jarmillo and Burke 1999)

In most tropical songbird species, both the male and female are capable of song, likely for the purpose of finding mates and defending territory. Therefore, it is likely that Cuban orioles also have female song; however research is needed on this and many other aspects of their communication and behavior. (Odom, 2016; Price and Hayes, 2009; Odom, et al., 2014) (Garrido, et al., 2005; Odom, et al., 2014; Odom, 2016; Price and Hayes, 2009)

Food Habits

The Cuban oriole diet consists mainly of fruit, nectar and insects. Cuban orioles take nectar from a variety of plants including coral trees, hibiscus, banana, agave, and citrus trees. They also eat insects off of palm leaves and soft fruit. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkconnel, 2005) (Jarmillo and Burke, 1999)

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


There are currently no known predators of Cuban orioles; however several raptors could prey on adults, and a range of snakes, birds and mammals could prey on eggs and nestlings. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999) (Jarmillo and Burke, 1999)

Ecosystem Roles

When eating nectar from coral trees, Cuban orioles will drill holes under the flowers, draining nectar without pollinating the plant, thus acting as a nectar robber. They also eat soft fruit, likely spreading seeds as a result, and they eat insects that could potentially harm the trees they inhabit. Cuban oriole nests are also host nests for shiny cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis), who lay eggs in the nests of the orioles, leaving the oriole parents to take care of the cowbird chick. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkconnel, 2005) (Garrido, et al., 2005; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999)

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Cuban orioles are popular pets in Cuba due to their song, which could be a potential conservation concern. In addition, Cuban orioles can help protect crop trees from insects which could otherwise damage them. The oriole’s appealing coloration, song, and proximity to human habitats could also make it a likely draw for birding and ecotourism. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999) (Jarmillo and Burke, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Cuban orioles do eat soft fruit. This could make the birds a crop pest in plantations specializing in citrus fruit or bananas. (Jaramillo and Burke, 1999; Garrido, Wiley, and Kirkconnel, 2005) (Garrido, et al., 2005; Jarmillo and Burke, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Cuban orioles were given the status of "least concern" on the IUCN red list in 2012. However, there has not been a recent formal assessment of the Cuban oriole population so it is not known how many exist in the wild now. It is possible that human developments and shiny cowbird nest parasitism could pose a threat to the Cuban oriole now or in the near future. (Raffael et al., 2003; Birdlife International, 2012) (Birdlife International, 2012; Raffaele, et al., 2003)

Other Comments

When the Greater Antillean orioles were documented by Joel Asaph Allen in 1890, Cuban, Bahama, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico orioles were classified as separate species. In 1936, the famous ornithologist James Bond reclassified the four oriole species into a single species called the Greater Antillean oriole. This classification held until 2010 when the American Ornithologist Union split the species into four clades due to DNA, birdsong, and plumage differences between the four orioles. The DNA evidence contributing to this splitting led to the conclusion that Bahama and Cuban orioles are more closely related to one another than either were to the other Caribbean orioles. (Omland, Lanyon, and Fritz, 1999; Sturge, et al., 2009; Bond, 1936) (Bond, 1936; Omland, et al., 1999; Price and Hayes, 2009; Sturge, et al., 2009)


Matthew Kane (author), University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Kevin Omland (editor), University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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.

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

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

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 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 all kinds of things, including plants and animals


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


an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death

pet trade

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

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


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


Allen, J. 1890. Description of a New Species of Icterus from Andross Island, Bahamas. The Auk, 7: 343-346.

Birdlife International, 2012. "Icterus melanopsis" (On-line). iucnredlist.org. Accessed June 20, 2016 at http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22736377A39902845.en.

Bond, J. 1936. A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences.

Campbell, S., A. Morales-Perez, J. Malloy, O. Muellerklein, J. Kim, K. Odom, K. Omland. 2016. Documentation of Female Song in a Newly Recognized Species, the Puerto Rican Oriole (Icterus portoricensis). The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology, 29: **-**.

Garrido, O., J. Wiley, A. Kirkconnel. 2005. The Genus Icterus in the West Indies. Ornitologia Neotropical, 16: 449-470.

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

Jarmillo, A., P. Burke. 1999. New World Blackbirds: The Icterids. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Odom, K. 2016. Investigating Female Songs and Duets in Songbirds (Oscine Passerines) at Three Evolutionary Scales: Phylogenetic Reconstruction, Comparative Methods, and Field Studies". Baltimore MD: Unpublished PhD Thesis.

Odom, K., M. Hall, K. Riebel, K. Omland, N. Langmore. 2014. Female Song is Widespread and Ancestral in Songbirds. Nature Communications, 5: 3379.

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: 224-229.

Price, J., S. Lanyon, K. Omland. 2009. Losses of Female Song with Changes from Tropical to Temperate Breeding in New World Blackbirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 10: 1098.

Price, M., W. Hayes. 2009. Conservation Taxonomy of the Greater Antillean Oriole (Icterus dominicensis): Diagnosable Plumage Variation Amon Allopatric Populations Supports Species Status. Journal of Caribbean Ornithology, 22: 19-25.

Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, J. Raffaele. 2003. Birds of the West Indies. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sturge, R., F. Jacobsen, B. Rosensteel, R. Neale, K. Omland. 2009. Colonization of South America From Caribbean Island Confirmed By Molecular Phylogeny With Increased Taxon Sampling. The Condor, 111: 575-579.