skip to content

Cacicus cela

Yellow-rumped Cacique

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Icteridae
  • Polytypic 3 Subspecies

Authors: Corwin, Pamela



Caciques (Cacicus) are medium sized, mostly black icterids, with pale irides and a pointed, whitish bills; most species also have yellow or red on the wings, rump, or tail. Males are large than females. Yellow-rumped Cacique is mostly black, with bright median yellow wing coverts, rump, belly and undertail coverts, and bases to the outer tail feathers. The irides are bluish white. Male Yellow-rumped Caciques are ca 20% larger than females.

Similar Species

Yellow-rumped Cacique overlaps geographically with several other species of black and yellow icterids, but can be distinguished easily from other similar species. Selva Cacique (Cacicus koepckeae) of southwestern Amazonia is rare; it is smaller than Yellow-rumped Cacique, has entirely black wings and belly, and the yellow rump patch is smaller. Band-tailed Oropendola (Ocyalus latirostris) is larger than Yellow-rumped Cacique, with a small "casque" on the forehead, lacks yellow on the wings, rump, and belly, and has a different pattern to the yellow in the tail. Epaulet Oriole (Icterus cayanensis) is smaller and slimmer than Yellow-rumped Cacique, with a longer, all black tail, smaller all black bill, less yellow on the rump, and a black belly. 

Yellow-rumped Cacique is replaced in the Andes by Mountain Cacique (Cacicus chrysonotus), which has a longer tail, black belly, and, in some populations (subspecies chrysonotus) no yellow on the wings. Yellow-rumped Cacique is replaced farther south, in Bolivia and Brazil, by Golden-winged Cacique (Cacicus chrysopterus), which lacks yellow on the belly and in the tail, and has less yellow on the rump.



Songs are acquired through two phases: memorization and crystallization. Memorization begins within a few months of hatching and continues into the first breeding season. Yellow-rumped Caciques do not fully crystallize their songs until their third year. Vocal signals are used to attract mates, defend territories, and advertise status. Colonies share 5 to 7 song dialects that differ from other colonies and are changed throughout the breeding season. Members are able to adopt these changes quickly and allow the colony to distinguish outsiders. Songs have social significances and males counter-sing one another to establish dominance (Trainer and Parsons 2002). The maintenance of this uniformity appears to have great social significance: despite rapid change in the structure of each song type throughout the breeding season, song uniformity persists because each member of a colony adopts the changes. Furthermore, when breeding males disperse between colonies from one breeding season to the next, they adopt the local song types and drop their previous repertoires (Trainer 1989). During bouts of countersinging, males match each other’s song type, which probably helps maintain the linear dominance hierarchy (Trainer 1988). Both sexes sing in the breeding colonies but female songs need to be studied.

Vocal Array

Vocalizations of Yellow-rumped Cacique vary geographically. Descriptions of the song of nominate cela include "a series of toots, whistles, and gravelly sounds mixed with mimicry (of birds, frogs, insects, and human-made sounds). Frequent phrase a querulous mewing dJEERu dJEERu-wer" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010). Calls of cela include "a grinding juRIK, and a harsh chack!" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010), and, from the female, "a rough rrrrrrr, particularly when behaving aggressively" (Jaramillo and Burke 1999).

The song of subspecies vitellinus and flavicrissus do not include mimicry (Jaramillo and Burke 1999, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b); their songs are described as containing "a conversational and musical series of notes: wick-a-weo char-che-ar, chut-chu-chu" (Jaramillo and Burke 1999) and as "melodic and pleasing ... [including] a distinctive mellow ee-choo-kee-oong (P. Coopman recording)" (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b). The call of vitellinus is "a standard icterid chuk" (Jaramillo and Burke 1999).

Additional audio recordings of vocalizations of Yellow-rumped Cacique can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Males sing most often in the breeding colonies during morning and evening with delivery rates in the early morning similar to those during late afternoon. Postbreeding, roosting congregations are highly vocal while arriving in the evening and before departure at dawn. Flight vocalizations occur during departure of feeding areas in the forest.

Places Of Vocalizing

Dominant males monopolize preferred singing sites nearest the nests. These sites are mostly shrubs or tree limbs (Robinson 1985).

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

Yellow-rumped Caciques in Panama had repertoires of around seven distinct song types that were shared among all male members of a breeding colony. During aggressive interactions among males, different song types were statistically associated with various behavioral contexts, including flying, beginning a song bout, supplanting, and following a pause in colony singing activity. Three general song classes contained structural analogs (song types sharing acoustic similarities) at twelve colonies. Both structural and functional properties of song types appeared to be widespread in the Isthmus of Panama. Given a song type, the conditional probabilities of associated behaviors were usually low (0.05 to 0.50). Individual songs were better predictors of nonaggressive behavior, such as flight and starting song bouts, than supplanting behavior. Cacique song types are better interpreted as attention attracting devices rather than as signals of agonistic intentions (Trainer 1988).

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

Both male songs and female vocalizations are used in territorial defense or in agonistic encounters. Alarm calls function to alert other colony members to potential danger, whereas flock calls appear to aid in maintaining a cohesive flock structure. Male dominance is measured by size and counter-singing. Such competing males use songs to establish dominance within the colony. They match each other’s songs until one loses. Songs are very important because they are specific to individual colonies. Males also use songs for attracting females and defending territories (Webster 1992).

Nonvocal Sounds

No information available - Contribute

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based on Jaramillo and Burke (1999), and refers to nominate cela; see also Geographic Variation:

Definitive male: Plumage primarily black, with a slight blue gloss. The lower back, rump, and uppertail coverts are lemon yellow. Rectrices black; the central four pairs are yellow at the base (covered by the yellow uppertail coverts), but the basal half of outermost pair of rectrices are yellow. The greater wing coverts (except for the outermost) and some of the inner median wing coverts are lemon yellow. The lower belly and undertail coverts also are yellow. The definitive plumage (Definitive Basic) is attained with the third prebasic molt.

Definitive female: Similar to male, but smaller (see Measurements), and sooty gray rather than black.

Second basic plumage, male: Similar to definitive basic, but duller, with olive edges to the belly feathers. Iris blue with dark flecks; bill yellow.

Second basic plumage, female: Similar to definitve basic.

First basic plumage, both sexes: Duller and grayer than adult (definitive basic). Iris purplish brown. Bill with patches of brown toward the base.

Bare Parts

Iris: Sky blue (male) or gray (female)

Bill: Ivory

Tarsi and toes: blackish

Bare parts color data from Jaramillo and Burke (1999).


Total length

male: 27-29 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b), 28 cm (Hilty 2003)

female: 23-25 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b), 23 cm (Hilty 2003)

Linear measurements (mm, from Jaramillo and Burke 1999): 

Mass: male, 106.3 ± 7.5 g (cela; n = 126; Robinson 1985c); female, 68.9 ± 3.6 g (cela; n = 225; Robinson 1985c)


Adult Yellow-rumped Caciques undergo a complete molt (prebasic molt) following breeding; a pre-alternate molt is not reported, and probably is lacking (Jaramillo and Burke 1999). 

Geographic Variation

Three subspecies recognized:

vitellinus (Lawrence 1864); type locality "New Granada, Isthmus of Panama"

Occurs in central and eastern Panama and in northern Colombia.

Similar to flavicrissus, but with larger bill; deeper, orange tone to the yellow of the plumage; and with a reduced amount of yellow on the wing coverts (Hellmayr 1937). Differs from cela by having less yellow in the tail (the outer rectrices primarily black, as in the central rectrices) and more orange tone to yellow of the plumage (Hellmayr 1937, Jaramillo and Burke 1999).

flavicrissus (Sclater 1860); type locality Babahoyo, Ecuador

Occurs in western Ecuador and in extreme northwestern Peru (Tumbes).

Differs from cela by the reduced amount of yellow in the tail (the outer rectrices primarily black, as in the central rectrices), deeper yellow tone to the plumages, and smaller size (Hellmayr 1937). Smaller and yellower than flavicrissus, with more extensive yellow on the wing coverts.

cela (Linnaeus 1758); type locality "in Indiis"; Suriname proposed as the type locality by Hellmayr (1906)

Widespread east of the Andes. See Detailed Description.

The subspecies vitellinus and flavicrissus share some plumage similarites, such as reduced yellow in the tail, and behavioral traits (including a lack of mimicry in the songs), and may represent a species distinct from nominate cela (Jaramillo and Burke 1999).


Cacicus is sister to the genus Psarocolius (oropendolas) (Price and Lanyon 2004). Cacicus cela appears to be sister to Cacicus uropygialis (Scarlet-rumped Cacique) (Price and Lanyon 2004).

Recommended Citation

Corwin, Pamela. 2012. Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: