How to Attract Orioles

The early bird gets the worm when it comes to attracting orioles to your backyard. Find out more about the oriole family and how to attract them to your yard.

Last April, I was picking up clothes from my daughter’s bedroom floor when my eye caught a flash of orange outside her window. Dirty socks in hand, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a brilliant orange-and-black Bullock’s oriole. There he was, clinging to my flower basket, plucking and eating the red blossoms from my geraniums. Oh no, I thought, I don’t have my feeder out!

It was mid-April in New Mexico, and I knew orioles were already arriving. Customers at my bird store had reported seeing them for a week or so, but procrastination got the best of me. Normally a bit of laziness doesn’t make much difference when feeding birds, but with orioles, timing is everything!

After a few minutes, my oriole flew off. Moving quickly, I found my oriole feeder, filled it with sugar water and hung it outside. I never saw the orange guy come back, though.

For the next couple of weeks, I faithfully filled the feeder with fresh nectar every few days, but it was too late.

Orioles are stunning birds, much anticipated by bird lovers. Even though males are brighter, females are gorgeous fliers as well.

How to Attract Orioles: Scott's Oriole

Scott’s Oriole

How to Attract Orioles: Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

How to Attract Orioles: Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find nine orioles in the United States, but only five are common.

Wondering how to attract Orioles to your yard? Baltimore and orchard orioles are widespread in the East, and the Bullock’s is found throughout the West. The Scott’s and hooded orioles are common in the Southwest, but you can see the other four orioles only at the extreme southern edge of Texas or Florida.

Orioles spend their winters in Mexico and Central and South America, where they can find a steady source of insects, fruit and nectar. Then they migrate north to nest in early spring.

And what a nest it is! Many orioles look for tall deciduous trees, where they carefully weave together plant fiber and sometimes yarn or string.

Some orioles will take up to 12 days to construct their pendulous sac-shaped nests on the ends of slender branches. This precarious placement keeps the eggs and babies relatively safe from climbing predators and other nest robbers.

Your chance to see orioles doesn’t last long, because most start to migrate south in August. It’s a thrill to see these beautiful and sometimes elusive songbirds. Whether you spot them for just a day or are lucky enough to have them visit your yard most of the summer, they are one of spring’s greatest bird treasures.

All in the Family

BALTIMORE ORIOLE. This stunning black-and-orange bird is found throughout the Midwestern and Eastern U.S. It is very similar in appearance to its Western cousin, the Bullock’s oriole. In fact, at one time both species were considered the same and were called the northern oriole. Their ranges overlap in the middle of the country. Some Baltimore orioles spend their winters as far north as the extreme Southeast coast of the U.S.

BULLOCK’S ORIOLE. Bullock’s orioles are the most widespread orioles in the West, where they prefer to nest in tall trees along streams and rivers. They are named in honor of William Bullock and his son, who did extensive ornithological work in Mexico in the early 1800s. Bullock’s orioles love grasshoppers and will feast on them almost exclusively when they are plentiful.

ORCHARD ORIOLE. The orchard oriole is the smallest oriole in North America and is common throughout the Midwest and East, though you may not see it as often as the Baltimore because it rarely visits nectar feeders. The orchard oriole comes a bit later than other orioles in the spring and sometimes heads south as early as mid-July.

SCOTT’S ORIOLE. Commonly seen in the arid Southwest, the Scott’s is hard to miss. The male is lemon-yellow and black and readily comes to nectar feeders. Although many orioles nest in very tall trees, the Scott’s often nests in the relatively short yucca plant. It also eats nectar from the yucca flowers and uses fibers taken from dead yucca for nest building.

HOODED ORIOLE. The hooded oriole is also found in the Southwest and is named for the male’s orange hood. This small, slender oriole often builds her nest in palm trees, where she literally sews the saclike nest onto a palm leaf.

Photography c/o Scott’s Oriole: Patsy Hicks; Bullock’s Oriole: Roland Jordahl; Orchard Oriole: Hazel Erikson

More expert tips on how to attract Orioles to your backyard!

  • Start early. Your best chance of attracting orioles is when they first arrive in early spring.
  • Use the same nectar recipe for orioles as you do for hummingbirds-four parts boiled water to one part sugar. Keep nectar fresh, and don’t use food coloring.
  • These birds are attracted to the color orange, so look for a sugar-water feeder specifically designed for orioles.
  • Make sure your feeder has large enough perches and drinking ports. It’s not unusual for orioles to try hummingbird feeders, but their bills are often too big. Orioles love the color and taste of oranges. Offer orange halves on a branch or feeder. Orioles will also eat grape jelly. Serve the jelly in an open dish or cup, and keep it fresh.
  • When placing the oriole feeder in your yard, think like a bird. Instead of hiding the feeder under an awning or tree, put it out in the open so the birds can see it while flying overhead.
  • Hang your feeder near a birdbath. If your bath has a bubbler, even better. Orioles love the sight and sound of moving water.
  • Put out yarn and string. Orioles and other backyard songbirds will use it for their nests.
  • If you don’t attract orioles in your first year, keep at it. It often takes several seasons to find a following.
  1. Joe Kirk says

    If you have honey bees on your Hummingbird feeder, Don’t trap them . Be thankful you have them. The world supply of polinators is getting dangerously low. Don’t kill them. They have a nest to feed. Thank you Joe Kirk

  2. John Farrell says

    Attracting Orioles is the most difficult thing we have tried to do. We have a wonderful wildlife habitat with many different species of birds, butterflies and animals but getting Orioles to appear has been almost impossible. They are in the area but stay at the tops of high trees. The only thing that worked one time was loose string for a nest. Didn’t work twice. We have lots of hummingbirds but can’t attract Orioles, and we live outside Baltimore!!

    • Susie Heck says

      Don’t be discouraged. I live in Carroll County and I have lots of Orioles. I cut up bailing twine into 6″ lengths and untwist it. Then I put the threads out on twigs and tomato cages starting in mid March. I have the tomato cages in pots on my deck so that the birds can see them and so I can see the birds. I have had eight females collecting strings at one time. I put out orange halves in the Spring. I think the color does attract the Orioles, but they love grape jelly. I have made feeders that have a cup of jelly that is covered by a roof to keep the sun off and the rain out, but on the outside of the feeder I have wooden pegs to put the orange halves on. After about a month or so, I don’t need to put oranges out at all. They just come for the jelly until about mid August when they migrate South with the hummingbirds. Good Luck!!

    • Marie says

      I have found that the Orioles are not real “public” birds. It seems they prefer an area to feed by themselves. Granted, other birds will visit, but we have had the best luck with Grape jelly on an orange colored feeder, in front of the house, rather than on the side where we feed the hummers. We served up 3 medium sized jars of grape jelly last summer.They come about the same time as the Hummers to Ohio, so we start putting out feeders the second week of April.

  3. Paulette Wickert says

    I’ve been honored to have 4 to 12 Balimore orioles in Va. Show up past 9 yrs. mine will only pick at an orange, many times not touching it. I put out grape jelly a scoop of peanut butter and a a bowl of sugar- they will not use an orange sugar water feeder ! They leave around the end of March. Then at then end of sept. I place a plastic orange pumpkin on a fence post ( kind kids use for trick or treating ) and put the food out and wait !

  4. Mary Thorne says

    I was fortunate to have had several orioles in my back yard in northwest Indiana along with a variety of other birds. My guys gobble up the jelly but only eat the hummingbird nectar!

    • Terry Gadberry says

      Last Apr/May was the first year trying to entice orioles to my feeder. The last week in apr I had 1 oriole that came to the feeder and left. The first week of may, brought more orioles than I had resources to handle. I was going through oranges and jelly on a weekly basis. This year I bought extra orange feeders to hang and will be looking for that early oriole scout.

  5. Judy Axtell says

    I use mint extract, applied with a Q-tip, on the ports of my hummingbird and oriole feeders. I also apply it where the bottle comes in contact with the feeder and to any edges where the feeder may open for thorough cleaning. This deters bees, wasps, and hornets, giving our birds a safe place to feed.

  6. Richard the birdman of ankeny says

    Put out grape jelly in glass votive candle holders-guaranteed orioles all summer!

  7. says

    What about orioles in north Georgia? I saw one on the fence outside my bedroom several years ago. It was here and gone. I went outside, but never saw it again. I thought maybe my eyes tricked me. I keep feeders for most types of birds, including hummingbirds, and always fresh water. I keep bird houses and nesting material handy. In the past I would put out orange slices, but not any more. If we can attract orioles here in north Georgia, I will add an appropriate nectar feeder, grape jelly, peanut butter, and orange slices. I would love to see them this year. Thanks!

  8. JoAnn Davis says

    It was a pleasant surprise when we had Baltimore Orioles nest in the tree in our front yard, right above our garage, in front of our bathroom window! We got to see them every day until the fledglings left the nest. After that we could hear them in the nearby trees, but they didn’t come back to the tree. We haven’t had them nest there again. Nothing has changed in our yard so I am wondering what I can do to bring them back? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

  9. WayesHomeAccessory says

    Orioles are indeed some beautiful birds.
    Remember when trying to attract birds to your garden mske sure thst your feeder is placed in a natural setting away from areas that you and your family use.

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