Orioles

Orioles

America’s most popular Orioles may reside in Baltimore, but you can spot several winged versions right in your own backyard. Learn how to distinguish oriole cousins by observing their nesting, feeding, and courting habits.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard orioles, found in the same range as northern (Baltimore) orioles, are sometimes overlooked because their colors are more muted. Novices may even think them the same species. Where the northern oriole is brilliant orange, the orchard oriole is chestnut; its tail is entirely black, it has less white in the wing, and it’s slightly smaller. Orchard orioles do nothing to defend territory and are even willing to share a tree with another pair. The male has an attractive song similar to that of a bobolink or fox sparrow. When courting, he simply bows before the female and sings vigorously. Maybe they’re both too frazzled with the whole idea of getting the cycle finished up by July, when they migrate south, to waste time on preliminaries.

As the name implies, orchard orioles frequently nest in orchards. Their nest doesn’t swing free the way the northern oriole’s does. The female builds the large, rounded nest, with a constructed rim, of weeds, fibers, and dried grasses. Their stay is quite brief: they raise one brood and then they’re gone, usually by the end of July.

Their diet, fortunately, is mostly insects, although they sometimes eat mulberries. They seldom come to feeders but have sometimes been attracted by bread spread with jelly.

Orchard Oriole

Size: 6"L
Breeding range: Eastern Massachusetts west to south-central Saskatchewan, south to northern Mexico, the Gulf states, and northern Florida
Winter range: Mexico to northern South America
Preferred habitat: Orchards, farmlands, towns
Preferred nest site: Branch in dense foliage
Clutch size: 3 to 7, usually 4 or 5
Incubation period: 12 to 14 days
Nestling period: 11 to 14 days
Broods per season: 1
Preferred food: Insects, fruits


Northern Oriole

Northern orioles will often come to a feeder for berries or orange slices, nutmeats, or suet. They also like syrup, and some learn to use hummingbird feeders. They’re among the birds that appreciate provided nesting materials such as thread, string, or yarn. But keep the pieces short (six to eight inches) so the birds don’t get entangled in loops and strangle themselves.

The northern oriole gives six or seven loud whistles in announcing his territory and a loud, harsh chatter as an alarm call. In courtship, monogamous northern orioles droop their wings and tails, fan them, bowing their heads and whistling, then flutter in the air.

Female northern orioles select the site for their nests, usually on a tree branch hanging over a clearing. She takes five or six days to build a hanging, gourd-shaped nest about 5 inches long. Its outer shell is tightly woven of weed stalks and inner bark and perhaps string, and the bottom is filled with plant down or hair. The female bounces in the nest, using her breast to shape it.

Northern orioles feed insects to their young, at first by regurgitation. The nestling period is about two weeks, just as it is for orchard orioles.

About half the diet of northern orioles includes gypsy moth larvae, grasshoppers, tent caterpillars, and leaf beetles. Orioles are also fond of soft fruits and berries, green peas, mountain ash, and the seeds of garden flowers such as hollyhocks and sunflowers. We know it’s time to harvest the pears when the orioles begin spending their time in the tree. Fall migration to the tropics begins in September, though scattered individuals may remain until October.

Northern Oriole

Size: 6 1/2"L
Breeding range: Nova Scotia west to British Columbia, south to southern California and Mexico, east to North Carolina
Winter range: Mexico to northern South America
Preferred habitat: Shade trees and woods edges
Preferred nest site: High branch of deciduous tree
Clutch size: 3 to 6, usually 4 or 5
Incubation period: 12 to 14 days
Nestling period: 11 to 14 days
Broods per season: 1
Preferred food: Insects, fruits


Oriole Facts

  • American orioles are not related to European orioles. Their common name was the result of error, and another source of confusion has arisen regarding Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles. Baltimore and orchard orioles are found from the Great Plains east; Bullock’s oriole, from the Great Plains west.
  • All orioles normally winter south of the United States. They aren’t common feeder birds during cold weather, but if they stay in their nesting areas, they will come readily to feeders.
  • All oriole males have a loud, pleasing, almost metallic whistle and are useful insect eaters.

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