Crested Oropendolas

male preening on branch next to nest

Just ask, and the oropendolas will happily point out their extraordinary nests!

Oropendolas create almost identical nests to weaver birds in Africa, and for the same reason - to keep predators like snakes away from the chicks.

Like weavers, they also nest in groups, and only one sex builds the nest while the other sex mates with whichever bird they think built the best nest. With weavers and with Crested Oropendolas, this means that the older, more experienced birds, who build the best nests, are the most prized partners.

At this point the similarity ends, because in Africa the males build the nests, while in Trinidad and Tobago the females build the nests, and the males just hang around making a lot of noise and displaying themselves.

I was told that this behavior perfectly describes males in Trinidad, and not just male Oropendolas, either.

oropendola standing on a branch looking at three hanging nests
oropendola swooping upwards to land in a tree

Crested Oropendolas are fairly common, but not easy to photograph, because they like to keep their distance from people.

The trick, of course, is to stay near a nest, because the birds keep flying backwards and forwards to feed their chicks, and if you know an oropendola's gone into a nest, then you can be pretty sure that in a few minutes it'll come out again.

oropendola flying away from its nest
oropendola about to land on a nest

Of course, your odds are improved by the fact that there are always several nests grouped together.

It's still not quite as easy as it sounds, since the nests really are a long way off the ground.   All of these photographs were taken with a 500mm lens.

They're fast birds, too, and you can never be sure which way they're going to go when they depart the nest.

oropendola diving from its nest
oropendola in flight

Here's the trickiest shot, an oropendola in mid-flight.

oropendola in flight