Nicaragua: The Sound of the Oropendola



Montezuma Oropendola (photo: Roland van Stokkom)

Ornithologist Charles C. Nutting came to Nicaragua in 1883 on a special assignment from the Smithsonian Museum. He was tasked with collecting as many native bird species as he could amass from four locations: San Juan del Sur, Sucuya (west shore of Lake Nicaragua), Ometepe Island, and “Los Sabalos” farm (owned by F.W.A. Lange and located 40 miles SE of San Carlos). Among the many birds he observed and collected was the Oropendola (Montezuma variety), whose unique bird call has not only mystified me, but totally threw him for a loop in trying to describe its bizarre character:

It would almost be impossible to describe the note of this bird, as it is totally different from any other with which I am acquainted. I have sometimes heard a similar noise produced by a cart-wheel that needed greasing, but a cart-wheel makes so many different noises that the comparison is almost a useless one.

If I had to describe it, I’d say it sounds more like R2D2 from Star Wars. I’m not kidding.

In the end, we should all celebrate Nicaraguan composer Carlos Ramírez Velásquez for daring to include the Oropendola’s call (or what he thought it sounded like) in his “Symphony of the Americas” in Bb major (1945). Yet he didn’t stop there, he also included other native Nicaraguan birds such as the Pajarito Relojero, Zezontle, Saltapiñuelas, Toledo, and Chachalaca–a virtuosic display of a composer’s technique, if any.

By the way, Nutting ended up taking seven (dead) specimens of Oropendola back to the Smithsonian, part of a large collection of hundreds captured during the trip, which was granted “free of all duties” by Nicaraguan customs thanks to a special dispensation by President Adan Cardenas.

More: Montezuma Oropendola (Wiki)


[N.B. This is not an official Department of State website or blog. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.]

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