Attract a pair of vibrant nectar-loving orchard orioles to your backyard with sweet treats.
East of the Rockies, an oriole that’s smaller and much darker than a Baltimore dashes through the flowering trees. The bird you’ve spotted is probably an orchard oriole. The two birds share similar markings, but where a male Baltimore oriole has a bright pop of orange, the orchard oriole sports a darker chestnut color.
Female orchard and Baltimore orioles look alike, too. They share a warm-hued chest, head and tail feathers, but the female Baltimore has touches of tangerine orange while the orchard’s color runs closer to greenish yellow.
Female orchard orioles are the primary nest builders (though their mates may sometimes help), constructing their homes in forks of branches. Over the course of a week, they weave grass and other flexible plant fibers into a pouch or a basket, then line the nests with softer plant down, feathers and the occasional piece of yarn.
Unlike some other birds, orchard orioles will share their territory in the summer. In fact, one tree may hold several nesting pairs. They build their homes alongside other bird species, too, such as American robins, eastern kingbirds and the look-alike Baltimore orioles.
Orchard orioles usually prefer open woodlands, lakeshores, parks, farms and, of course, orchards. They spend time in treetops and bushes where they forage for insects and spiders with their sharp, thin beaks. Early May is the perfect time to attract orchard orioles as the hungry migrants travel north. Just like their Baltimore oriole brethren, orchards have a sweet tooth and drop by backyards with the right spread of fruit and nectar offerings. They’re even known to stop at sugar-water feeders.
“One great way to attract orioles is by offering orange halves. Just stick the oranges on a nail and enjoy watching the orioles feast,” says Emma Greig, the project leader for Project Feederwatch of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Grape jelly is always an oriole favorite, but serve it in moderation. If you’re worried about bugs eating more of the jelly than the birds do, Emma has a solution. “Try moving jelly feeders around your backyard periodically. Birds will notice them in their new locations more quickly than insects. And remember that insects are good creatures to have in your yard, especially pollinators like bees, so don’t despair if they insist on having a small share of the jelly.”
For orchard orioles, migration back to their winter homes begins in mid-to-late summer, and even as early as mid-july. It’s also when they load up on berries, like ripe mulberries and chokeberries, to help them on their journey south.
SIGNATURE LOOK More bold than females, male orchard orioles sport black head feathers, a burnt orange chest, and a black tail and wings with white accents.