Just Hangin´ Around Puerto Vallarta

With the hustle and bustle of today’s life, many of us never have the time or take the time to stop and smell the flowers, let alone closely observe the wildlife around us. However, for those of us retired geezers fortunate enough to be living in Paradise, where the tropical flora and fauna abound, the beautiful flowers and birds are literally everywhere; so conspicuous that you’d have to be blind to miss them!

During the eleven years that we’ve lived on the Sierra Madre hillside overlooking Banderas Bay and the city of Puerto Vallarta, there have been a number of generations of tropical birds that have chosen trees on our property to build their nests. Some of the nests are built in the forks of the trees, others are located in the fans of palms, and still others are precariously hanging from the very end of branches. A couple such hanging nests are currently “front and center” in our picturesque view.

Invariably, when friends visit our house, they will inquire about those large nests hanging from the tree. Our response has always been that they are just some kind of local birds that like to build their nests in our trees; not a very precise answer! Being retired and on Mexican time, we did not exactly rush into determining the correct answer to their question; however, after eleven years, we decided to research the subject and learn what kind of bird builds the hanging nests.

When we first asked the local natives of the area, we were informed with authority, that Calandrias build the hanging nests. Having never heard of such a bird, we then went to our translating dictionary and found that Calandria is Spanish for Oriole. Okay, now that we have a suspicion that the hanging nests were built by orioles and not claiming to be professional bird watchers (the only orioles that we’re familiar with are from Baltimore), we decided to look a little further. We brought out the digital camera and started watching and waiting for the perfect moment to capture the builders in action.

To our astonishment, there are over 400 species of tropical birds in the area and we had no idea how to even begin our classification process. We see the flocks of green parrots and a myriad of colorful song birds every day in the Banderas Bay region, however all that we knew for sure was that the builders in question were yellow and black; therefore birds of that color combination became our focus of attention. To our dismay, there are a half dozen or more different species of yellow and black birds in this area of Mexico. After researching the yellow and black birds that build hanging nests, it was determined that the nests could be the handy work of either orioles or caciques; both residing in the Vallarta hillsides and both species of the Icteridae family of birds, sometimes referred to as Troupials.

Most of the yellow and black orioles found around Vallarta are Hooded, Scott, Black Vented or Wagler, and Bullock Orioles, all of which build their pendulous nests at the end of branches. The Yellow Winged Caciques, quite similar in appearance to the orioles with very similar hanging nests, are also often seen around Vallarta and are easily confused with orioles by amateur bird watchers such as us.

Now, armed with just enough information to be dangerous and our digital camera in hand, we set out to photograph these beautiful nest builders. After just missing a hundred great “photo ops”, we finally got a close up picture of one of these beautiful birds on our terrace. We studied the photo closely and compared the yellow and black bird in the photo to the various orioles and caciques under consideration and finally determined that it was of neither species and not even of the Icteridae family of birds!

Although Yellow Breasted Chats of the Parulidae family are numerous in the area, this was definitely not one. This was a Great Kiskadee, a strikingly beautiful bird that appeared to be borrowing the hanging nests on a temporary basis; perhaps even stealing straw from the hanging nests to build their own side entry nest in a large fork of the tree! The Great Kiskadees are of the Tyrannidae family, have bright yellow breasts, dark olive-brown backs, and very distinguished and unmistakable black and white heads. They are quite aggressive and were seen defending their territory in the tree from much larger birds. Our initial thought was that these Kiskadees were defending the hanging nests, but after discovering that they don’t build hanging nests, it was concluded that they were defending the nest in the fork of the tree that was probably built partially from twigs and straw stolen from the abandoned pendulous nests.

Now we’re back to square one; who built those abandoned hanging nests? Since we weren’t paying attention when they were being built and there are so many magnificent yellow and black birds in the area, we’ll probably never know for sure who built them! Although we see many of the beautiful Yellow Winged Caciques in the neighborhood and they do build the hanging pendulous nests, we should probably just accept the local knowledge and assume these particular nests were built by some kind of oriole or calandria.

The seasoned bird watching veterans would probably tell us that those nests hanging around Vallarta were built by Troupials of the Icteridae family; thereby sounding intellectually brilliant while covering all their bases by including all orioles and caciques!

If nothing else, the research associated with this exercise sure did make us much more aware of the beauty around us. There are literally hundreds of different species of tropical birds in the Vallarta area that we can enjoy year round and therefore it’s no wonder that this region in Paradise is a virtual playground for the professional bird watchers. On the other hand, with the perfect climate, incredible scenery, and fun to be had, perhaps bird watching is just a good excuse for scheduling their next field trip to Vallarta!