7 Natural Ways to Entice Orioles to Your Yard
Did you know that the Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) was named for the Baltimore family of England whose crest contains the same colors? It is also the state bird of Maryland (the capitol being named for the same English family).
This robin-sized cousin of the blackbird, grackle and cowbird measures 7” to 8-½” from beak to tail. It sports a black hood over its head and neck, a brilliant orange back and breast, and a black and orange tail and black wings with white wing bars.
The female Northern Oriole is a duller orange underneath and olive green on top with black wings and white wing bars. The long, pointed black beak is well-suited to piercing fruit and insects. Young Northern Orioles will resemble their mother, being olive and yellow-brown above, and a yellowish-orange color underneath. Two white wing bars are easy to see on both the females and the juvenile orioles.
Oriole Singing and Foraging
The oriole’s song matches its physical beauty with flutelike whistling notes, which vary within each song and with each individual. If there is trouble, orioles sound an alarm by chattering excitedly. They spend their winters in South America, but migrate northward as far as Canada in spring and return to their South American digs in the autumn.
Preferred habitat includes open woodlands and river side forest edges, farmlands and parks with fruit trees, nectar flowers and low-growing shrubs; also grassy meadows edged with tall trees.
Northern (Baltimore) Oriole Range Map
Provide the Basics: Food, Water, Nesting Material and Shelter
- Food: A grape arbor and or fruit trees would provide shelter and food as well as beauty to your landscape. Consider also planting blueberries, raspberries, elderberries or dark cherry varieties. Our old mulberry tree was a very favorite spot for the orioles, as was the neighbors’ crab apple tree.
- Plant a Vegetable Garden: The insects that love your vegetable garden are highly prized by orioles and lots of other insect-loving birds. No toxic pesticide is necessary!
- Nectar-Yielding Flowers: Any nectar-yielding flowers will be relished by your orioles. They enjoy many of the same flowers that hummingbirds do. Plant coral honeysuckle, columbine, penstemons, monkey flowers, fuschias, salvias, bee balm and catmint.
- Fruit: Cutting an orange or apple in half and hanging it from a tree is a well-known way to call orioles to the table. But did you know that they absolutely love grape jelly and strawberry jam? Offer them in tiny cups, no more than 2 tablespoons at a time. Otherwise, their wings may become mired in the sticky goo rendering them unable to fly.
- Jam: Orange marmalade, elderberry jam, black raspberry jam, and apricot preserves are also fun to serve to the orioles. I have heard that pink grapefruit cut in half will also please them. Experiment to see what your orioles like best. There are lots of fruits that are prized by colorful migratory birds like orioles, grosbeaks, buntings and cedar waxwings.
- Water: If you aren’t lucky enough to have a river or nearby stream, pond or pool, orioles will be just as happy with a water fountain or bird bath. Just as long as it is large enough for them to bathe on a regular basis, they will be happy. Just like catbirds, they love to take baths! Orioles will use a water feature or fountain numerous times in a day, particularly if there is dripper or bubbler attachment. If it sounds like a babbling brook, lots of birds will investigate and enjoy the water!
The Oriole's Preferred Nesting Materials
Make sure you have a grassy area from which the orioles can glean their nesting material. A small meadow planted with native grasses and wildflowers would be ideal. Also, include teasel and or milkweed for their nest inner liner. Or refrain from mowing a small patch of your lawn during the nesting season in spring. Try cutting short lengths (about 2” to 3“) of clean soft cotton yarn, and hang them from shrub and tree branches.
- Orioles lay between 3 and 6 bluish-gray eggs that have irregular dark brown or black markings.
- If a cowbird should lay an egg in an oriole nest, the oriole mom is strong enough and smart enough to kick it out onto the ground below! They are not about to raise another bird's baby.
- It takes about 2 weeks for the orioles to hatch from their eggs, and about the same amount of time before the fledglings take flying lessons from their parents.
Their unusual nests are made in 3 stages using grass, plant fibers, plant down and spider webs. The end product is a 5” to 7" sturdy, flexible pouch large enough to accommodate all the babies. I remember when I was a child, every year there was a Baltimore oriole nest hanging at the end of an Elm tree branch about 25 feet in the air right over the dirt road on which we lived. I used to worry that the babies would fall through the nest and be killed on the road below. I was unaware then how strong and flexible oriole nests are. The nests are never re-used, orioles build fresh ones every year.
Chokecherries are a weed tree that orioles also love to nest in. They lined the back of our property and were filled with all kinds of birds, because they also grew on the edge of a swampy area. Next to that was a field of black raspberries.
Even if you do not have tall deciduous trees nearby, orioles will use dense shrubs or regular fruit trees in which to nest. This is true especially if you offer all their favorite foods. Also, plant low-growing shrubs, keeping them close together—no more than 4 feet apart in mass plantings. Use holly, cotoneaster, hawthorn, viburnum, weigelas and pyracanthas for example.
Protecting the Habitats of Wildlife
Birds’ habitats in general and orioles’ in particular are shrinking due to deforestation and human urban sprawl. By crafting havens for birds like the colorful Northern Oriole, our backyards can serve to replenish some of that lost habitat. The colorful beauty and lovely songs make for an oasis for humans as well.