Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the March 28,  2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Hiking a forest trail early one morning the quietness was shattered by a series of sudden, loud, sharp, descending whistles from nearby, TWEEEW!-TWEEEW!, TWEEEW!-TWEEW!, about six pairs of close-together tweeews articulated with such energy and sharp enunciation that certainly a message was there, though I didn't know what it was. After searching awhile through the underbrush I glimpsed a black, stocky figure keeping to the shadows, shaped almost like a robin.

The bird was such a skulker that I figured I'd never get a decent view of him and I almost gave up. However, then it occurred to me that the call didn't seem too hard to imitate, so I tried it -- sharp, descending pairs of whistles in a quick series. Before my first two, very imperfect calls were issued, the black form had exploded from the undergrowth and flew across the trail within ten feet of me before landing in more undergrowth. Seldom has an imitated call, especially such a poorly executed first try, evoked such a response for me!

Yellow-billed Cacique, AMBLYCERCUS HOLOSEICEUSI called a few more times and my whistles seemed to drive the poor bird nuts. A second bird of the same species appeared and also flew close, before landing in the brush. I got a picture, not the greatest, but enough for a positive identification, shown at the right.

It's the Yellow-billed Cacique, AMBLYCERCUS HOLOSEICEUS, the yellow bill seeming whiter to me than yellow. Caciques belong to the same family as orioles and oropendolas. The word cacique in Spanish means "chief" or "boss," and with that commanding voice and brusque behavior I can see why.

Back in Chiapas we had Yellow-winged Caciques, who also uttered fantastically expressive and varied calls, often ending in echoic, chiming notes, KI-ERRR INK-INK-INK... Now I've heard both of Mexico's cacique species and feel qualified to say that caciques are birds worth hearing.

Yellow-billed Caciques occur in thickets, second growth, forest edges and the like, often near water (not the case this time) from eastern lowland Mexico south to Peru and Bolivia.