Dr Redzlan Abdul Rahman recently spotted a Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) with a cicada in its bill perching on a branch of a tree by his house in Raub, Malaysia. He rushed into his house, grabbed his camera and proceeded to take a few shots shown on the left. The bird was busy manipulating the large and stocky insect that he thinks may be an emperor cicada (Pomponia imperatoria), considering its size.
The mass singing by a large number of cicadas can often be heard in rural areas, especially around forests. The loud and shrill singing suddenly pierces through the silence of the rural air, and just as suddenly it stops, to restart after a short interval. This characteristic mating song is made by the males, to attract females. Such singing, it is claimed, can chase away birds, as the noise can hurt their ears and thus interfere with their communication.
Obviously the cicada caught by this oriole was a loner and the noise it emitted was not too irritating. The large wings are usually broken off as the insect is swiped against the branch to subdue it. Only then is the body swallowed. However, this last stage was not observed.
Cicadas are rather common where Dr Redzlan lives – often heard but seldom seen. These insects complete their life cycle underground. This may take from a few months to years, depending on species. The eggs are laid above ground but as they hatch, the nymphs fall to the ground and burrow under the soil. There they grow, shedding their old skins and developing new ones. This is necessary as the skin is not elastic and cannot expand as the body increases in size. Moulting occurs a few times and just before the final moult, the nymphs move above ground where the old skins are often left on tree trunks and branches, as seen in the image below (left). That on the right shows an adult cicada on a tree trunk. Note that this is a different species of cicada from the one caught by the oriole.
Black-naped Orioles take insects like grasshoppers, mantids, large caterpillars and hornet grubs. They also take a broad range of fruit, not to forget bird nestlings.
Cicada is here recorded as another food item of the Black-naped Oriole.
Images of oriole manipulating cacada by Dr Redzlan, other two by YC.