One of North America’s most popular fruit-eating birds is the oriole. Of our nine species, the Baltimore is common and widespread in the east while the Bullock’s is common in the west.
Baltimore and Bullock’s Orioles were once considered the same species and called Northern Orioles. Though they do inter-breed in areas where their ranges overlap, genetic studies show them to be two distinct species. The Baltimore Oriole was named for George Calvert, Baron of Baltimore, whose livery stable was yellow and black. The Bullock’s Oriole was named after William Bullock and his son, for their ornithological work in Mexico in the early 1800s.
Oriole nests are woven with thousands of stitches and the tying of thousands of knots, all done solely with its beak. Orioles take as many as 15 days to weave their nests and the results are engineering masterpieces – woven hanging-basket nests made of plant fiber, grasses, vine and tree bark. Nests are hung on small branches six to 45 feet in the air, keeping them safe from predators. Female orioles do most of the nest building and are the only one to incubate and brood, while both parents feed the young which fledge about 30 days from egg laying.
You can help to supply them with additional nesting materials by providing natural fiber yarn, twine or string pieces in lengths of less than six inches.
Fun Facts About Orioles
- Orioles are insect and fruit eaters. They usually stay hidden in the trees eating and singing their beautiful whistling notes. They can be drawn down from their perches with foods like orange slices, grape jelly, mealworms and nectar feeders.
- When not feeding on nectar, orioles seek out caterpillars, fruits, insects, and spiders.
- Unlike many insect eating birds, Baltimore Orioles will eat spiny or hairy caterpillars, including such pest species as fall webworms, tent caterpillars, and gypsy moths.
- Bullock’s Orioles may feed almost entirely on grasshoppers when they are plentiful, one bird was found to have feasted on 45 of them in one day.
- While in their tropical winter habitats, Baltimore and Bullock’s Orioles feed on nectar from numerous flowering trees, which explains their attraction to nectar feeders upon their spring-time return to North America.
- While in their tropical winter habitat, the Baltimore and Bullock’s Oriole play an important role in pollinating several tree species as they transfer pollen from tree to tree while eating nectar from their flowers.
- It takes as many as 12 days for an Oriole to weave its nest. One Baltimore Oriole was observed spending 40 hours building a nest with about 10,000 stitches and the tying of thousands of knots, all with its beak.
- While modern day Oriole nests are made primarily of plant fibers, Oriole nests collected in the late 1800s, before the age of the automobile, were made almost exclusively of horsehair.
- Orioles will lay 4-5 eggs anywhere from April to June. The young will fledge as late as 30 days from egg laying.
- Orioles are found across North America in the summer. Some species winter in the tropics and others in Mexico.
- Most Bullock’s Orioles spend their winters in central and southern Mexico, with a few staying along the coast of southern California.
- Both the Bullock’s and Baltimore Orioles start their southerly migration as early as July, with August being the prime migration month.
- Bullock’s and Baltimore Orioles migrate at night and are known to be victims of collisions with buildings and communication towers.
- The Bullock’s Oriole was named in honor of William Bullock and his son, also named William, for their ornithological work in Mexico in the early 1800s.
- Oriole’s are a member of Icteridae family, meaning that their closest bird relatives include meadowlarks, blackbirds, bobolinks and grackles.
- The oriole gets its name from the Latin aureolus, which means golden.
- The Scott's Oriole, a summer resident of the Southwest U.S., weaves its nest out of fibers from yucca plant leaves.
- Orioles appear to be sensitive to the spraying of pesticides, with birds succumbing directly from the poison and from the loss of their insect food sources.
- The oldest banded Baltimore Oriole recaptured in the wild had lived 11 years and 7 months.
- The oldest banded Orchard Oriole ever recaptured in the wild had lived 9 years and 3 months.
- The oldest banded Bullock’s Oriole ever recaptured in the wild had lived 6 years and 1 month.