Orioles from the orchard delight the ears and eyes | Our community
MYour favorite oriole is the orchard oriole. This might come as a surprise since it is the smallest oriole in North America. Nor is it as flamboyant as the much larger and better known Baltimore oriole.
However, I find the orchard oriole to be beautiful too. The male has a chestnut body, black head, back, wings and tail. Plus, I love that it nests in my yard every year, giving me unlimited opportunities to see and hear this awesome bird.
Every April, I look forward to that special morning when I hear the first orchard oriole of the year. This year I heard my first April 11. The orchard oriole’s song, sung by both male and female, is difficult to put into words. Perhaps best described as a rambling song that features high notes at the start and ends in lower tones. However, as during the nesting season the orioles of the orchards sing continuously from dawn to dust, I learned to recognize it.
Unfortunately, the orchard oriole spends most of its life living in its wintering grounds that stretch from southern Mexico through Central America south to Colombia and Venezuela. We Monroe Counties can only enjoy the bird from April to August.
However, orchard orioles stop calling at the end of the nesting season, usually in mid-June.
The orchard oriole was named because it often nests in orchards. However, they also like to nest near leafy trees bordering grassy fields, reservoirs, rivers, as well as areas with scattered tall trees, such as parks and yards.
Although they often nest alone, they occasionally nest in small groups. For reasons that are not fully understood, orchard orioles frequently nest near the nests of eastern king martins. Some birders theorize that orioles nest in these places because kingbirds aggressively defend their nesting territories from potential predators.
The fact that some studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the fluctuations of the populations of tricolored tyrants and orchard orioles seems to support this theory. When kingbird populations are high, so are orchard oriole populations and vice versa.
The orchard oriole nest is something to behold. The bird’s hanging nest is 3.4 to 4 inches in diameter and 2.25 to 3 inches deep. It can be described as a thin-walled basket. This amazing structure is built by the female using blades of grass. She lines her nest with vegetable down and cotton. The nest is placed in the fork of a small branch between 4 and 70 feet above the ground.
Grackles are known to regularly attack nests and eat birds’ eggs and young. If that’s not enough, their nests are frequently parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds. Studies have shown that oriole nests where cowbirds laid eggs fledged only half as many young as nests without cowbird eggs.
The orchard oriole has a varied diet. When the birds first arrive in the spring, they often feed on flowers and blossoms adorning fruit trees. However, the bulk of their diet includes many creepy and crawling animals like spiders, wasps, caterpillars, and beetles. They also consume berries and fruits. Several times I saw Cherokee plums eaten then. They are also known to eat blueberries.
This little oriole also feeds on the nectar produced by the flowers of the trumpet creeper. Because the trumpet vine has such long, funnel-shaped flowers, orchard orioles find it difficult to reach the nectar at the bottom of the flowers. The orchard oriole solved this problem by cutting a slit along the trumpet creeper flowers just above the base of the flowers. This allows the bird to pass its beak through the slit and feed on the sweet nectar found at the base of the flower. I have observed this strange feeding behavior in my yard and it is something to see.
The orchard oriole is not what you would call a feeder – a bird that regularly feeds at feeders – however, it will visit feeders. They most often dine at hummingbird feeders equipped with perches. Plus, they avoid feeders that have narrow slots that serve as feeding portals. If you want them to use such a feeder, you need to enlarge the slots. It is best to make them large enough to allow the orioles to insert their beaks.
Although I have never observed an orchard oriole at one of my hummingbird feeders, I have seen them eat suet. Like other birds, they seem to prefer suet mixed with peanut butter.
Most of the orioles I see at my bird feeding and watering stations have visited my birdbath. Orioles in the orchard use my birdbaths from spring until they leave in summer.
As I write this column, orchard oriole songs are floating through a window near my computer. Being able to see and hear Orchard Orioles makes me realize how lucky I am to have one or more pairs of Orchard Orioles living nearby. Hopefully you can also enjoy orioles in the orchards around your home.
Terry Johnson of Forsyth is a retired program director of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He wrote the informative “Monroe Outdoors” column for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery”, is available on The Reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.