Breeding biology and habitat associations of the Altamira Oriole and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas



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Texas A&M University


I studied the breeding biology and nesting ecology of the Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis) and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (Camptostoma imberbe), two songbirds inhabiting remnant tracts of Tamaulipan brushland of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas during 2002-2003. I found 76 active oriole nests, 7 of which were reused for second broods, for a total of 83 nesting attempts. I estimated that nearly 20% of the oriole breeding population were subadult, or second-year orioles, which is extremely rare for this species. Oriole breeding pairs were found in high densities and may be at their highest level at the study sites since the 1970s. Fifty-nine percent of oriole nests fledged, and 37% failed. Six nests produced Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus) fledglings. Vegetation analysis suggests that orioles prefer the tallest trees at the sites in which to place their nests. A greater number of fallen logs near the nest was also a predictor of nest sites, which suggests that orioles prefer scattered woodlands, but also that many of the forests probably continue to shift to a more open, thorn-scrub climax stage. I monitored 28 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet nests, which were restricted to a smaller number of study tracts than Altamira Orioles. Historical records are lacking for Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets at these sites, but my surveys indicated that there were similar seasonal numbers of tyrannulets at some of the study sites as there were during 1996-1998. Forty-three percent of nests were successful and 57% failed. Higher abundances of epiphytic Spanish moss (Bromeliaceae: Tillandsia usneoides) and ball moss (Bromeliaceae: Tillandsia recurvata) were the most important predictors of nest sites. The continued existence of these two species in South Texas will depend upon the preservation of tall forests, and in the case of the tyrannulet, forests rich in Tillandsia epiphytes.