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Northern OrioleNorthern Oriole
The birds formerly known as the "Baltimore Oriole" in the east and "Bullock's Oriole" in the west were once thought to be separate species. However, when trees were planted in the Great Plains it was found that the two birds interbreed and most birds of that area have indeed become hybrids. In Lord Baltimore colors, it is one of the brightest local birds and has a voice to match its distinctive plumage. In the east the male has bright orange breast, rump and shoulder patches while the head, back, and wings are black. Females are duller olive brown with dull orange-yellow underparts and two white wing bars. The western male is similar to the eastern male but also orange cheeks and eyebrows and a large white wing patch. The western female is whitish underneath.

The males arrive in early May, trumpeting their rich, mellow notes loud, clear and far-reaching, one of the reassuring notes of the season. The song is a rather disjointed composition of whistled two-note phrases and shorter, softer single notes broken by long pauses. It tends to be quite variable but of the same general quality and tone. Each male has a recognizably different song.

The breeding habitat consists of woodlands and deciduous trees throughout the United States and in Canada along the St Lawrence Seaway and into British Columbia. It is usually absent from the southern states near the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts. They winter from Mexico to South America.

Orioles spend most of their time high in the treetops, one must look closely to spot them. They like tall shade trees in small towns, along country roads and especially favor old elms around farmhouses. Big sycamores along streams are also favored sites. Before the decline of the American Elm it was the favored nesting site by the eastern subspecies.

The courtship ritual consists of the male stretching to its full height and then bowing low with tail spread and wings slightly raised. And if successful the female will build the nest. The nest is characteristic, a woven bag about six inches deep, suspended from a small fork near the end of a drooping branch. It is very substantial, as it must be to withstand the gusty winds of summer storms. The female is indeed one of the most skillful artisans of North American birds. She will readily accept pieces of string or yarn hung out over a fence or porch rail. The nest in the photo was woven almost entirely of yarn.

The clutch consists of 4 to 6 grayish eggs, with brown spots. It is an uncommon Cowbird host and may reject Cowbird eggs. The eggs are incubated by the female for 12 to 14 days and the young leave the nest two weeks later. The diet consists of insects, spiders, and snails as well as buds, nectar and fruit.

Length 7 to 8 1/2 inches

Attracting Orioles

Visit Shaw Creek Bird Supply to see our Oriole Feeder.

Copyright 2003 Shaw Creek Bird Supply