Above: This oriole was photographed by local photographer Kimberly Kotzian. The bright male was feeding on an orange, but they also like jelly. It is good to know that returning orioles need two things: food and water.
Nature’s Adventures: The return of the orange and black
By Steve Linenfelser
Many people have asked me what’s my favorite part of the arrival of spring and I’d have to say, it’s hard to pick just one. Naturally, warmer weather and the lack of snow is a nice thing to experience. Going on hikes and seeing more sunshine is so welcomed after the cold, grey winter.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the return of many migratory birds, such as the American robin, sandhill cranes, and Eastern bluebirds. There are many other birds I enjoy seeing, but my favorite to watch as they feast on orange slices, mealworms and grape jelly, that I put out for them, is a bird named after an English nobleman. Yes, it’s the return of the orange and black, and no, I’m not talking about the colors of Jackson High School (I’m a Golden Eagle) it’s that wonderful songbird, the Baltimore Oriole.
After spending their winters in Mexico, Central and South America they fly back to near where they were born. The males usually arrive first, and you will often hear them high up in a tree, singing their melodious and harmonic song. The females arrive next, and unlike the males, which have a bright orange breast with dark black heads, the females are a faded orange/brownish color.
Above, a female oriole was photographed by Lynn Okenka. The hungry bird appeared soon after she put out the orange.
After their long journey, they need two basics: food and water. I have a couple of bird baths that I refill dailyto help attract these birds. I also fill a gallon plastic water jug and freeze it, and then hang it upside down and poke a hole in the end of it. I place it where the afternoon sun hits it and put a bowl underneath. The orioles and other birds will recognize the drip, drip, drip sound of the melting water drops and coming flying in. I cut some oranges in half and place them in white bowls field with water. This does two things; it keeps the ants out of the orange slices and gives the orioles a much-needed drink. I then fill up several glass cups with grape jelly. Baltimore Orioles, along with other birds, can see ultraviolet light, which is reflected off of the grape jelly. Orioles feed on insects during the mid-summer, but after a long flight from their wintering grounds they need carbohydrates and sugar, which the oranges and grape jelly gives them.
The females will build often build their nest high up in an elm, oak, or maple tree. This helps hide it from predators such as raccoons that will feed on the eggs and the young. She makes it out of long grass, milkweed silk, plant fibers and even yarn strips. The female builds a five to eight-inch sock-like nest that she loops the milkweed around a branch and often does this upside down. It may take her up to forty hours and she uses her beak to make as many as several thousand little tiny knots. She lays four to five eggs that hatch about two weeks later.
Brown-Headed Cowbirds will lay as many as forty eggs in other birds’ nest, but the Baltimore Oriole has learned to push out the cowbird eggs and both male and female orioles will attack the cowbirds if they come near the nest.
I put out fresh grape jelly and sliced oranges before dawn. A couple of mornings ago I ran into a bit of a snag. Apparently, a skunk discovered some jelly that had spilled on the ground and was eating some as I walked towards it in the dark. I startled it when I shined my light on it, and then it turned towards me and started stomping it’s feet, which is a warning to back off. Believe me, I DID, rather quicklyI might add.
Deb Sautter captured this oriole looking into her storm window, as if to say “Hey! we need more jelly out here!” Sautter quickly obliged.
Two other things I have witnessed recently was how the orioles will, after gobbling up grape jelly, proceed to wipe their beaks on part of the feeder or a nearby branch, etc. to remove the excess sticky jelly. This one male oriole did something else,he dipped his beak into the bird bath before wiping the jelly off – pretty smart bird.The other thing I noticed I have never seen before was a female oriolefeeding upside down and she got one of her wings caught in part of the feeder. I raced out to rescue it, but before I reached the feeder it managed to escape. But then it did something I found hilarious. It flew to a nearby tree and started “chewing me out.” When Baltimore Orioles are threatened, they will chatter aggressively. This female did this several times until I walked away, and it seemed to blame me for being caught temporarily, but I was like “Hey, I put out the food for you!”
Yes, the ‘ole orange and black is back, baby! I fixed the feeder so it will no longer catch an oriole. I also watch out for early morning skunks. The spring brings many pleasant smells with it, but skunk spray is not one of them.
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