Palmchat: Dulidae

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PALMCHAT: Dulidae

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The only member of its family, the palmchat was first described in 1766. The bird is typically 7.5 to 8 inches (19 to 20 centimeters) long and has a fairly long tail. Its upper parts are olive brown, with a dark yellow-green area across its rump and on the edges of its primary wing feathers. Its under parts are creamy white with heavy brown streaks, while its strong bill is yellow and its eyes are russet. Adult males and females look very similar, but immature birds have darker throats. Although it is distantly related to the North American waxwings, its plumage is not soft and velvety. It is a vocal bird, and may be recognized by its cheerful gurgles and "cheep" calls. It does not have a song, but rather blurts out noises and single notes.


GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

The palmchat is one of only two birds native to the Caribbean (the other is the Jamaican tody). It is native to the West Indian island of Hispaniola, which is split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic, including the Saona and Gonave islands.


HABITAT

Palmchats forage and breed almost exclusively in savannas, flat grasslands, dotted with royal palms and in valleys, and tend to stay at elevations between sea level and 4,900 feet (1,500 meters). It is also happy to live in city parks and other areas heavily trafficked by humans as long as food trees are present.

DIET

This species eats mainly fruit, including berries from palm trees and gumbo-limbo trees. They also eat blossoms and buds, particularly of orchid tree blooms, but are not considered harmful to the trees.


BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Palmchats are very social birds and congregate in small flocks that have a communal nest where they meet and rest. These little bands usually consist of several pairs. The birds show great affection for each other, preferring to snuggle close together on branches even in their tropical climate. Palmchats' reputation for alertness and energy may come partly from their continuously erect posture, with tails pointed straight down. The flocks are noisy, especially near their group nest, where they rest at night and during daytime breaks in activity. When not looking for food, palmchats sit on palm fronds or the upward-pointing ends of pruned fronds. They emerge from their nests in the early morning to preen and dry in the sun.

These birds breed mostly between March and June, but occasionally some pairs will breed at other times. Several pairs of palmchats build a nest together, each with its own chamber and entrance. The large, messy nest is built around the crown of a palm, supported by its lower fronds. In areas lacking palms, the birds will build their nests on top of telephone poles, in the dense foliage of a broad-leafed tree, or in pine trees. Their main building material is twigs, which they intertwine loosely to create the 3- to 6.5-foot-diameter (1- to 2-meter) structure. Some of the twigs can be as long as 10 to 18 inches (25 to 45 centimeters) long. The females lay two to four grayish purple eggs that are thickly spotted at the wide end.


PALMCHATS AND PEOPLE

These lively birds are a familiar sight in most towns on Hispaniola and its environs, but they do not have any particular significance to humans.

CONSERVATION STATUS

The palmchat is not threatened.


FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Bird, David M. The Bird Almanac: A Guide to the Essential Facts and Figures of the World's Birds. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books Ltd., 2004.

Gill, Frank B. Ornithology. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1994.

Raffaele, Herbert A. A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Sibley, David A. The Sibley Guide to Birdlife and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

Wauer, Roland H. A Birder's West Indies: An Island-by-Island Tour. Houston, TX: University of Texas Press, 1996.


Web sites:

"Dulus dominicus—Palmchat." InfoNatura. http://www.natureserve.org (accessed on June 21, 2004).

"Dulidae." [email protected] Bay.http://www.montereybay.com/creagrus (accessed on June 21, 2004).