All Birds Wiki
File:Bullock's Oriole.jpg
Adult male Bullock's Oriole
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Clade: Nine-primaried oscines
Epifamily: Icteroidae
Clade: Blackbird and warbler group
Family: Icteridae
Vigors, 1825
  • Icteriinae
  • Sturnellinae
  • Cacicinae
  • Icterinae
  • Agelaiinae

The Icterids are a group of small to medium-sized, often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World. Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. The family is extremely varied in size, shape, behavior and coloration. The name, meaning "jaundiced ones" (from the prominent yellow feathers of many species) comes from the Ancient Greek ikteros, through the Latin ictericus. This group includes the New World blackbirds, New World orioles, the Bobolink, meadowlarks, grackles, cowbirds, oropendolas and caciques.

Despite the similar names, the first groups are only distantly related to the Old World Blackbird (a thrush) or the Old World orioles.


The majority of icterid species live in the tropics, although there are a number of temperate forms, such as American blackbirds and the Long-tailed Meadowlark. The highest densities of breeding species are found in Colombia and in southern Mexico.[1] They inhabit a range of habitats, including scrub, swamp, forest, and savannah.[2] Temperate species are migratory, with many species that nest in the United States and Canada moving south into Mexico and Central America.

File:Euphagus cyanocephalus male gaping.jpg

Breeding male Brewer's Blackbird apparently gaping (see text) in soil.

Icterids are variable in size, and often display considerable sexual dimorphism. For example, the male Great-tailed Grackle is 60% heavier than the female. The smallest icterid species is the Orchard Oriole, in which the female averaging 15 cm in length (6 in) and 18 grams (0.6 oz) in weight, while the largest is the Amazonian Oropendola, the male of which measures 52 cm (19 in) and weighs about 550 grams (1.2 lbs). This variation is greater than in any other passerine family (unless the Kinglet Calyptura belongs with the cotingas, which would then have greater variation[3]). One unusual morphological adaptation shared by the icterids is gaping, where the skull is configured to allow them open their bills strongly rather than passively, allowing them to force open gaps to obtain otherwise hidden food.

Icterids have adapted to taking a wide range of foods. Oropendolas and caciques use their gaping motion to open the skins of fruit to obtain the soft insides, and have long bills adapted to the process. Others such as cowbirds and the Bobolink have shorter stubbier bills for crushing seeds. The Jamaican Blackbird uses its bill to pry amongst tree bark and epiphytes, and has adopted the evolutionary niche filled elsewhere in the Neotropics by woodcreepers. Orioles will drink nectar.

The nesting habits of these birds are similarly variable, including pendulous woven nests in the oropendolas and orioles. Many icterids are colonial, nesting in colonies of up to 100,000 birds. Some cowbird species engage in brood parasitism: females lay their eggs in the nests of other species, in a similar fashion to some cuckoos.[2]

Some species of icterid have become agricultural pests, for example Red-winged Blackbirds in the United States are considered the worst vertebrate pest on some crops, such as rice.[4] The cost of controlling blackbirds in California was $30 per acre in 1994. Not all species have been as successful, and a number of species are threatened with extinction. These include insular forms such as the Jamaican Blackbird and the St Lucia Oriole, which are threatened by habitat loss.


Cacique and oropendola species are called paucar or similar names in Peru.[5][6] It is said that as paucares are considered very intelligent, Indians feed the brains to their children to make them fast learners.[7] As the male plays no part in nesting and care of the young, a man who does not work may be called a "male paucar".[8]



Subfamily Icteriinae[]

  • Genus Icteria - Yellow-breasted Chat

Subfamily Sturnellinae[]

Subfamily Cacicinae[]

Subfamily Icterinae[]

  • Genus Icterus – New World orioles (33 species)

Subfamily Agelaiinae[]

  • Genus Agelaius – Typical American blackbirds (11 species)
  • Genus Dives (3 species)
  • Genus Euphagus (2 species)
  • Genus Quiscalus – true grackles (5 living species, 1 recently extinct)
  • Genus Agelaioides – Bay-winged Cowbird (formerly in Molothrus)
  • Genus Molothrus – true cowbirds (5 species, includes Scaphidura)
  • Genus Ocyalus – Band-tailed Oropendola (might include Clypicterus)
  • Genus Clypicterus – Casqued Oropendola

Prehistoric icterid genera that have been described from Pleistocene fossil remains are Pandanaris from Rancho La Brea and Pyelorhamphus from Shelter Cave.


  1. ^ Lowther P (1975) "Geographic and Ecological Variation in the Family Icteridae" Wilson Bulletin 87 (4): 481-495
  2. ^ a b Parkes, Kenneth C. (1991), Forshaw, Joseph, ed., Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds, London: Merehurst Press, pp. 214–215, ISBN 1-85391-186-0 
  3. ^ Prum, Richard O.; Snow, David W. (2003), "Cotingas", in Christopher Perrins (Ed.), Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds, Firefly Books, pp. 432–433, ISBN 1-55297-777-3 
  4. ^ Dolbeer, R & S Ickes (1994) "Red-winged Blackbird feeding preferences and response to wild rice treated with Portland cement or plaster" Vertebrate Pest Conference Proceedings collection Proceedings of the Sixteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference (1994) (W.S. Halverson& A.C. Crabb, Eds.) Univ. of Calif.:Davis.
  5. ^ Manu Peru Manu - Aves, Enjoy Corporation S. A., 2007,, retrieved 2007-09-28 
  6. ^ Muyuna Amazon Lodge, Iquitos - Peru,, retrieved 2007-09-28 . Click the link to Fauna and scroll forward one page.
  7. ^ Moyobamba - Peru, 2007,, retrieved 2007-09-28 . The source given is Moyobamba, apuntes turísticos y geográficos by Pedro Vargas Roja.
  8. ^ Aves en Soritor - Distrito de soritor Moyobamba - Alto Mayo - San Martín - Peru, 2006,, retrieved 2007-09-28 

External links[]

Sterna diversity This article is part of Project Bird Families, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird family, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
Please help by writing it in the style of All Birds Wiki!