Baltimore orioles

A flock of stunning Baltimore orioles descended upon Fifield May 13 after a long migratory journey. The male’s brilliant orange and black plumage blazes like a torch as seen in the photo in contrast to the females more subdued variable brownish to yellowish head and back, but she is still impressive, nonetheless. During the first weeks in May they can be attracted to backyard bird feeders with orange halves and grape jelly.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and Baltimore orioles all show up around Mother’s Day in early May just like clockwork. All three showed up at our Nature Education Center (NEC) this spring right on time, as they always do.

All three species can be attracted to backyards, grosbeaks with black oil sunflower seeds, hummingbirds with sugar water, and orioles with oranges and grape jelly. The best way to attract these species and to keep them around for a while is to make sure these foods are put out before their expected arrival. Some will spend a few days refueling, so they have enough energy to continue their migration, and others may just stay around to nest if they find suitable habitat (food, water, shelter, and space).

This week we will focus on the Baltimore oriole, a species that has a sweet beak as opposed to a sweet tooth in humans! After a long migration from its wintering grounds in Central America and the northern part South America orioles are eager to refuel on some sweets to provide quick energy. This is followed by a good diet of insects that provides them with protein which they also feed their young. They will eat mealworms, if you want to provide them with some protein at your feeders.

We attract orioles at our NEC by providing them with half oranges and grape jelly, but they will also take sugar water that we put out for hummingbirds. The oranges are bright, attracting their attention to our oriole feeders where we also place small dishes of grape jelly which they favor even more than oranges.

It isn’t unusual for orioles to disappear from feeders later in the spring as they continue their migration or start nesting. Orioles look for tall deciduous trees, often cottonwoods or willows along water, where they carefully weave together plant fiber and sometimes yarn, and string put out for them to use.

Their sac-shaped nest, attached to the ends of slender branches, is rather unusual and small for such a large bird. However, this precarious nest placement keeps the eggs and babies relatively safe from climbing predators and nest robbers. They nest only once a year and lay from three to seven eggs. After the young fledge, the parents will often take them to grape jelly feeders to teach them how to use their ‘sweet beaks.’ Once parenting duties are over with, they and their young leave our area starting in mid-August heading back to their wintering grounds.

Two of the common questions we get about orioles at our NEC is, “how long do they live and why are they called Baltimore?” The answers, banding studies indicate orioles can live as long as 12 years in the wild and their bold orange and black colors are like the colors on England’s Baltimore family crest, the same family who also gave their name to Maryland’s largest city.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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