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Orchard oriole

The Orioles Return

Flame colors and flute music

by Bob & Jorja Feldman

From the May, 2019 issue

Among the migrating birds that return to Ann Arbor each spring, the male Baltimore oriole, with its rich orange and orange-yellow flame colors dramatically offset against a black head and back, is a visual showstopper.

Baltimore orioles may winter as far away as northern South America. (We have seen them flitting around in a Costa Rican rain forest.) According to historical data on, May is the best month for spotting them in Washtenaw County. That fits our own experience as bird feeders.

Baltimores come readily for proffered food. The traditional hospitality offering is oranges, which we hang from a tree on modified wire coat hangers. But our orioles greatly prefer grape jam or jelly. We avoid using any made with high fructose corn syrup.

For city ornithologist Juliet Berger, their nests are one of the two coolest things about Baltimores. The female spends a week or more weaving a finely woven pendulous nest that she hangs from a tree branch. The nest stretches as the chicks inside grow--there may be as many as four or five--bulging here and there as the new life inside moves around.

The other coolest thing about Baltimores is the male's song, which Berger describes as flute-like and melodious. (The female sings a shorter song.)

The Baltimores grow scarce at our feeders after about a month. By then they are busy incubating eggs and raising chicks, hunting insects in the treetops to feed them. That changed diet, the leafing out of the canopy, and the diminished ability to use sound as a locator--most singing stops once the chicks have fledged--all make spotting more difficult come summer.

Berger's first choice for finding Baltimores is the pathway between Gallup and Parker Mill parks, especially opposite South Pond. She also suggests Furstenberg Nature Area, Barton Nature Area, and Nichols Arboretum. Beyond that, look around any other well-treed parks and other deciduous woodlands with water nearby.

Our photos include two images showing the front and back

...continued below...

of an adult male Baltimore oriole. The other Baltimore image is of a female eyeing a flower; she poked her bill into the top of it searching for nectar. Adult females are predominately yellow with considerable variation in coloration.

The remaining two photos are of orchard orioles. The adult male has a chestnut-colored breast. The female orchard looks a lot like the female Baltimore, but it is a bit brighter yellow. These birds are also smaller than Baltimores.

While the chance of seeing an orchard oriole locally is a long shot, and an even longer one in a backyard setting, they are worth remembering. Because Baltimores and orchards have the same general oriole configuration and orchards are a rara avis locally, a casual observer might attribute their different coloration and size to variation within the same species.

Baltimores may hang around as late as September (orchards leave earlier.) Then they fly south again, leaving us to await their return to Ann Arbor next May.     (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2019.]


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