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Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi
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This species has always had an extremely small range, but recent volcanic eruptions have caused an extremely rapid population decline and extirpated it from all but two disjunct areas. Deposits of volcanic ash have seriously damaged the habitat of the remaining population, and further deposits or an increased frequency of hurricanes could have devastating effects. Although the trend may have since stabilised, the future of this species in the wild remains uncertain, and it consequently qualifies as Critically Endangered. Confirmation of population size and trend may lead to its downlisting in future.

Taxonomic source(s)
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Stotz, D. F.; Fitzpatrick, J. W.; Parker, T. A.; Moskovits, D. K. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

20-22 cm. Medium-sized, black-and-yellow icterid. Adult male, mostly black with yellowish lower back, rump, shoulder, lower breast, belly and undertail. Female, dull yellowish-green above and yellowish below. Immature duller. Voice Loud whistles and harsh chuur.

Distribution and population
This species inhabits an extremely small area on Montserrat (to UK) in the Lesser Antilles. By the early 1990s, it occurred throughout the three main forested hill ranges on the island (the Centre, Soufrière and South Soufrière hills), but volcanic activity in 1995-1997 entirely destroyed two-thirds of remaining habitat (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). Initially, only the Centre Hills (c. 14 km2) population was thought to have survived the pyroclastic flows (although even this area was heavily ashed) (P. Atkinson in litt. 1998, 1999, Arendt et al. 1999), but a remnant population was later discovered in a 1-2 km2 forest patch in the South Soufrière Hills, just one km from the summit of the volcano (Bowden et al. 2001). In December 1997, the estimated population was c. 4,000 birds (Arendt et al. 1999), but intensive monitoring between 1997-2003 indicated that the Centre Hills population declined by 40-50%, despite reduced volcanic activity (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003, Hilton et al. 2003). In 2001, 2003 and 2006, further major volcanic eruptions caused heavy ash falls on large areas of the Centre Hills, destroying several nests and curtailing breeding (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003, Anon.2006). The rapid declines noted between 1997-2003 may now have ceased, but population levels remain at less than 50% of those of 1997, with a total population estimated at just 307-690 birds (212-1,131, 95% CI) in 2012, c.80% in the Centre Hills and 20% in the South Soufrière Hills (Oppel et al. 2014a).

Population justification
In 2012 the total population was estimated at 307-690 birds (212-1,131, 95% CI), depending on whether the sampling area around each point count was assumed to encompass 100 m or 150 m (Oppel et al. 2014a). The upper estimate comprises 546 (382-897) individuals in the Centre Hills, and 143 (94-234) individuals in the South Soufrière Hills (using a 100 m radius around points); and the lower is based on estimates of 243 (170-399) individuals in the Centre Hills, and 64 (42-104) individuals in the South Soufrière Hills (using a 150 m radius around points; Oppel et al. 2014a). This very roughly equates to 200-460 mature individuals. Previous population estimates were of 460-590 pairs (260-1,190, 95% CI) or 920-1,180 mature individuals, and 5,200 individuals (based on 2004 survey data; Hilton 2008).

Trend justification
A variety of monitoring and analytical techniques indicate annual declines of 8-52% during the period 1997-2000 (Hilton et al. 2003) following a rapid one-off event when a volcanic eruption caused a 60% decrease in range and population in 1996. There was some recovery between 2003 and 2005, and there was no evidence of a continuing population decline between 2000-2013 despite continuing volcanic activity and the presence of native and invasive nest predators, although large uncertainty around trend estimates mean the power to detect a shallow negative trend is very low (Oppel et al. 2014a). Based on the comparison of count data at 42 points, the population in 2013 was less 50% of that in 1998 (Oppel et al. 2014a), thus a decline of 50-79% is estimated to have taken place over the past three generations (18 years), but the current population trend is provisionally estimated to be stable. The probability of extinction after three generations is predicted to be low (2.1% by the year 2028) and future population size is uncertain owing to demographic and environmental stochasticity (Oppel et al. 2014b).

It occurs in most forest types between c. 150-900 m, but reaches highest densities in wetter, higher altitude forests, and is absent from areas of very dry forest (Jaramillo and Burke 1999, G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). It is found in all successional stages, and sometimes at the edges of cultivated areas and banana plantations but appears to be an obligate forest species (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). Nesting occurs in March-August, but the exact timing probably depends on the rainy season (P. Atkinson in litt. 1998, 1999, Jaramillo and Burke 1999). Pre-breeding season rainfall increases food availability which leads to improved body condition of females and increased fecundity (Oppel et al. 2013). Nests are mainly suspended from the leaves of Heliconia caribbaea, although banana and other broad-leaved trees are also used (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). Its clutch-size is typically two or three. Unsuccessful pairs may attempt up to five clutches; successful pairs can very rarely rear three broods per year (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). It forages at all levels, but particularly in the understorey, feeding mainly on insects, but occasionally also on fruit and possibly nectar (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003).

Volcanic eruptions in 1995-1997 all but extirpated the species from the Soufrière and South Soufrière hills. Although volcanic activity was reduced in 1998-2000, the population continued to decline (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003, Hilton et al. 2003). Potential causes are low insect availability (Marske et al. 2007) and/or chronic ill-health of birds resulting from ash fall on remaining forest, and other unknown and indirect knock-on effects of volcanic activity (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). Research into reproductive success, using nest cameras, has also revealed high rates of nest predation by rats and native Pearly-eyed Thrashers Margarops fuscatus, both of which occur at high but fluctuating densities (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003, Bowden et al. 2001). Studies between 1998-2005 found nest success of 29% (n = 275 nests), and 87% of nest failures were due to predation by either introduced rats or Pearly-eyed Thrashers (Allcorn et al. 2012). The availability of non-native fruit trees on Montserrat may have benefited the Pearly-eyed Thrasher population (Oppel et al. 2015). In 2001 and 2003, drought appeared to cause reduced laying frequency and clutch-size, and this may be an increasing problem now that the species is confined to lower, drier areas (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). Conversely, excessive rainfall can also have a negative impact. A feral pig population is spreading fast and could cause serious damage to the forest habitat if not eradicated, it damages a key nesting plant for Montserrat Oriole, Heliconia caribaea (Oppel et al. 2015). Despite being previously proposed as a threat, there is no nest parasitism by Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis because this species does not currently occur on Montserrat (P. Atkinson in litt. 1998, 1999), contra Raffaele et al. (1998). Loss of remaining habitat owing to deforestation for agricultural and residential development is also a threat (Oppel et al. 2015). Having a montane distribution that is close to the maximum altitude within its range, this species is also potentially susceptible to climate change (BirdLife International unpublished data). 

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The Centre Hills has been designated a protected area and development is not permitted within its marked boundaries (P. Atkinson in litt. 1998, 1999). A Species Action Plan was published in 2005. There is a comprehensive programme to monitor the population and breeding success (Gibbons et al. 1998, G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). In 2001 a research programme into the causes of the continuing decline was established (Hilton et al. 2002). In June 1999, eight birds were taken by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to Jersey Zoo to enable the development of husbandry techniques; initial attempts at captive breeding proved successful (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003, Owen 2000). As of January 2014 there were 49 captive individuals held in 13 different zoos across the world (Oppel et al. 2015). However there are currently no plans to augment the wild population with birds from captive stock (G. Hilton in litt. 2007, 2008). During 2003, preliminary tests of management interventions were made, aimed at boosting reproductive success (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). Experimental rat control in the Centre Hills commenced in 2006 with work involving comparing nest success in an area with experimental rat control to adjacent areas with high rat density (G. Hilton in litt. 2007, 2008). A project to control feral livestock in the Centre Hills has been running since 2009, funded by the U.K.'s Darwin and Overseas Territories Environment Project initiatives and the EU's BEST initiative (Oppel et al. 2015). A pig eradication programme is planned for the island. Between 2005 and 2008 a project to enable local people to effectively manage the Centre Hills was carried out, associated outcomes included publication of area management plans, as well as detailed socio-economic and biodiversity assessments of the area (Oppel et al. 2015).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Continue the existing programme and research into the causes of the decline. Develop potential management interventions to boost reproductive success (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003). Protect all remaining forests on Montserrat (Allcorn et al. 2012) by addressing forest clearance for development activities, reducing feral livestock populations and introducing effective legislation (Oppel et al. 2015). Continue the close monitoring of the population (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003, Oppel et al. 2014a) and development of breeding programmes. Investigate the reasons for the high densities of nest predators in the Centre Hills (G. Hilton in litt. 2000, 2003), and focus on enhancing nesting success via rat control (Allcorn et al. 2012). Monitor the avifauna on Montserrat to detect arrival of the Shiny Cowbird which could parasitise the nests of Montserrat Oriole (Allcorn et al. 2012).

Allcorn, R. I.; Hilton, G. M.; Fenton, C.; Atkinson, P. W.; Bowden, C. G. R.; Gray, G. A. L.; Hulme, M.; 1,5, Madden, J.; Mackley, E. K.; Oppel, S. 2012. Demography and Breeding Ecology of the Critically Endangered Montserrat Oriole. The Condor 114(1): 227-235.

Anon. 2006. "Ash in de air" - impacts on the Centre Hills.

Arendt, W. J.; Gibbons, D. W.; Gray, G. 1999. Status of the volcanically threatened Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi and other forest birds in Montserrat, West Indies. Bird Conservation International 9: 351-372.

Bowden, C. G. R.; Fenton, C.; Gray, G. A. L.; Mackley, L.; Hilton, G. M.; Atkinson, P. W. 2001. The Monstserrat Oriole: in trouble again. Dodo: Journal of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust 37: 100.

Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.

Gibbons, D. W.; Smith, K. W.; Atkinson, P.; Pain, D.; Arendt, W. J.; Gray, G.; Hartley, J.; Owen, A.; Clubbe, C. 1998. After the volcano: a future for the Montserrat Oriole? RSPB Conservation Review, pp. 97-101. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sandy, UK.

Hilton G. M. 2008. Birds of the Centre Hills. In: Young, R. P. (ed.), A biodiversity assessment of the Centre Hills, Montserrat. Durrell Conservation Monograph No. 1, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Jersey, Channel Islands.

Hilton, G. M.; Atkinson, P. W.; Gray, G. A. L.; Arendt, W. J.; Gibbons, D. W. 2003. Rapid decline of the volcanically threatened Montserrat oriole. Biological Conservation 111: 79-89.

Hilton, G.M., Gray, G.A.L., MacNamara, S. and Bowden, C. 2002. Montserrat Oriole ups and downs. Cotinga 17: 7.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Jaramillo, A.; Burke, P. 1999. New World blackbirds: the icterids. Christopher Helm, London.

Marske, K. A.; Ivie, M. A.; Hilton, G. M. 2007. Effects of volcanic ash on the forest canopy insects of Montserrat, West Indies. Environmental Entomology 36: 817-825.

Oppel, S., Cassini, A., Fenton, C., Daley, J. and Gray, G. 2014a. Population status and trend of the Critically Endangered Montserrat Oriole. Bird Conservation International 24(2): 252-261.

Oppel, S., Gray, G., Daley, J., Mendes, S., Fenton, C., Galbraith, G., Daniel, S. and Millett, J. 2015. Important Bird Areas - Montserrat. British Birds 108(2): 80-96.

Oppel, S., Hilton, G., Ratcliffe, N., Fenton, C., Daley, J., Gray, G., Vickery, J. and Gibbons, D. 2014b. Assessing population viability while accounting for demographic and environmental uncertainty. Ecology 95(7): 1809-1818.

Oppel, S., Hilton, G.M., Allcorn, R., Fenton, C., Matthews, A.J. and Gibbons, D.W. 2013. The effects of rainfall on different components of seasonal fecundity in a tropical forest passerine. Ibis 155: 464-475.

Owen, A. 2000. The collection of eight Montserrat Orioles Icterus oberi and their establishment at Jersey Zoo. Dodo: Journal of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust 36: 51-61.

Raffaele, H.; Wiley, J.; Garrido, O.; Keith, A.; Raffaele, J. 1998. Birds of the West Indies. Christopher Helm, London.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

RSPB International Research - Montserrat Oriole

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Bird, J., Calvert, R., Isherwood, I., Pople, R., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A., Wege, D. & Ashpole, J

Atkinson, P. & Hilton, G.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Icterus oberi. Downloaded from on 27/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Montserrat oriole (Icterus oberi) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Icteridae (New World blackbirds)
Species name author Lawrence, 1880
Population size 200-460 mature individuals
Population trend Stable
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 10 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species