Montserrat Oriole (Icterus oberi)
Other local names: Various authors have reported that it has the local name of Tannia Bird. However, this is a mistake; in fact the Tannia Bird is the Forest Thrush Cichlerminia lherminieri whose far-carrying song was thought to indicate the correct time to harvest Tannia. Along with some other West Indian oriole species, it has been called Banana Bird for many years, but the name is not in common use now.
The Montserrat Oriole has a curious relationship with the people of its island home. It is the national bird, and a ubiquitous symbol, seen all over the island in arts, crafts and advertising. It is a source of pride and great interest. Yet most Montserratians confess to never having seen one in the wild. Having evolved as Montserrat’s only endemic bird species some two million years ago, it has shown a remarkable longevity. Its ability to withstand the various assaults of volcanic eruptions and hurricanes (not to mention the odd ice age) is undoubtedly one of the reasons for its popularity: it symbolises the resilience that the people of Montserrat have demonstrated in abundance in recent years.
The Montserrat Oriole is in the fortunate position of being valued very highly by the people of Montserrat: in short, they will not let it disappear. Important steps to improved management of the Centre Hills are being made, with a Darwin Initiative project to create a Protected Area and a Management Plan. This will create the conditions for habitat protection and management that will benefit the species. Much information has already been gathered through the Oriole Emergency Conservation Programme, and the Montserrat Biodiversity Assessment, and more research is under way into the wider impacts of rats on the Centre Hills. A pig eradication programme is being developed. Despite the multitude of serious threats, and its Critically Endangered status, the prospects for the species are improving.
Where to Find More Information?
Websites of partner organisations:
Scientific papers and reports:
Dalsgaard, B, Hilton, GM, Gray, GAL, Aymer, L, Boatswain, J, Daley, J, Fenton, C, Martin, J, Martin, L, Murrain, P, Arendt, WJ, Gibbons, DW & Olesen, JM (2007). Impacts of a volcanic eruption on the forest bird community of Montserrat, Lesser Antilles. Ibis. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-919x.2006.00631.x.
Hilton, G.M., P.W. Atkinson, G.A.L. Gray, W.J. Arendt, & D.W. Gibbons (2003). Rapid decline of the volcanically threatened Montserrat Oriole. Biological Conservation 111; 79-89.
Arendt, W. J., Gibbons, D. W., Gray, G. A. L., 1999. Status of the volcanically threatened Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi and other forest birds in Montserrat, West Indies. Bird Conservation International 9, 351-372.Hilton, GM, Gray, GAL, Fergus, E, Sanders, SM, Gibbons, DW, Bloxam, Q, Clubbe, C and Ivie, M (eds) (2005). Species Action Plan for the Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi. Department of Agriculture, Montserrat. ISBN 1 90193071
Montserrat Oriole Bird of the Month contributed by Geoff Hilton
Range and Habitat Needs
In recent decades, the species has been confined to hill forests in the Centre Hills, Soufrière Hills and South Soufrière Hills of Montserrat. Before the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano in 1996, the species probably had a range of about 30 km2 (the island of Montserrat is 109 km2). There are historical reports that it once also occurred in the Silver Hills in the north of the island, but this site is now heavily degraded dry forest and scrub, unsuitable for orioles.