Baltimore Oriole: A “Most Wanted” Backyard Bird

Jill Staake

Every weekend, the Focus on Natives segment highlights a plant, bird, or butterfly native to the Southeastern U.S. Know of a particular species you’d like to see featured here? Make your suggestions in the comments section below.

Focus on Natives:
Baltimore Oriole: A “Most Wanted” Backyard Bird

Audubon's Illustration

When traveling the Mississippi River in the early 1800s, John James Audubon wrote:

Much might the traveller find to occupy his mind, and lead him into speculations regarding the past, the present, and the future, were he not attracted by the clear mellow notes, that issue from the woods, and gratified by the sight of the brilliant Oriole now before you.

Turns out the great Audubon was just as fascinated by the Baltimore Oriole as many backyard birders are today. He wrote extensively of this bird, documenting its mating and nesting habits and physical characteristics. First officially documented by Linnaeus in 1758, the Baltimore Oriole was named for the  resemblance of the male’s coloration to the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore, founder of Maryland.

The Baltimore Oriole is a summer resident in most regions of the Southeast, and their return is eagerly awaited by many each year. In fact, BirdsandBlooms.com notes this bird as one of their 50 Most Wanted, alongside such favorites as the Indigo Bunting and Eastern Bluebird. Baltimore Orioles are on their way back north right now, so it’s the perfect time for Southeastern birders to learn more about them and how to attract them. Let’s start with the facts:

Male Baltimore Oriole, Photo: Roland Jordahl

Who:

  • Common Name: Baltimore Oriole
  • Scientific Name: Icterus galbuba

What:

  • Family: Blackbird (Icteridae)
  • Length: 8-3/4 inches
  • Wingspan: 11-1/2 inches
  • Distinctive Markings: Male has full black hood and fire-orange plumage. Female is drab yellow with dusky-brown wings. Young males do not grow their full adult plumage until their second fall. (Audubon insisted this wasn’t true, but he was later proven wrong.) Click here to see pictures of each.
  • Calls: Song – a series of rich whistled notes interspersed with rattles; Call – a chatter. Click here to listen to a sound clip.

A female Baltimore Oriole guards her nest. Photo: Illinois Raptor Center.

Where and When:

And a few more things…

  • There are five species of orioles commonly seen in the U.S., two of which may be seen in the southeast. The other species you may see is the Orchard Oriole, which is smaller and present in the region for a much shorter time each year.
  • The Baltimore Oriole’s range overlaps with that of  Bullock’s Oriole in the middle of the country, leading to hybridization as the two inter-mate. For a while, the two birds were combined as one species called the Northern Oriole, but were separated again in recent years.
  • Though given the common name “oriole”, American orioles are not actually a part of the Oriole family, Oriolidae. True orioles are native to the Old World, and our American birds were named because of their resemblance to these European cousins.

And the most important question of all…

…how do you attract these lovelies to your own backyard? First, it’s important to understand that orioles don’t eat seeds and won’t visit a traditional bird feeder. A Baltimore Oriole’s diet consists of fruit, nectar, and insects. To bring them to your yard, offer them any of the following:

Oriole feeders like this one are available from sites like Duncraft.com.

  • Fruit, especially oranges: Orange halves and slices seem to be a favorite oriole treat. Be sure to change the fruit every few days to avoid rotting (probably daily in warmer climates or during the dog days of summer).
  • Grape Jelly: These sugar-lovers can’t seem to get enough of this stuff. Offer it in an open dish or even the jar itself.
  • Hummingbird Nectar: Orioles will visit hummingbird feeders with built-in perches; they can’t hover like hummers do, so they need a place to land. They are attracted to the color orange, so specific feeders have been designed to meet their needs.
  • Meal Worms: Baltimore Orioles love caterpillars in the wild. You can offer meal worms as an alternative in your own backyard, presented in an open dish.

David Musumeche of Backyard Chirper says that “the perfect oriole feeder station should be able to offer fruit, a sugar water solution holder, containers for mealworms, and containers for offering jellies… Your feeding station should be about seven feet off of the ground.” There are a variety of oriole feeders for sale, ranging from simple to elaborate. You can also build your own – look for more details on that in this Thursday’s “Working for the Weekend” post.

Probably the most important tip for attracting Baltimore Orioles to your yard is timing. In an article for Birds & Blooms, birding expert Anne Schmauss notes that if you don’t catch orioles when they first begin arriving to your area, you may not attract them at all that year. She also points out that it can take several years for orioles to begin visiting your yard, so patience is also key. Learn more of Anne’s tips by clicking here.

How do you attract Baltimore Orioles to your yard? Have you seen any yet this year? Help other birders bring this valuable visitor to their yards by offering your tips and experiences in the comments!

  1. says

    Sigh. I would LOVE orioles in my garden in North Carolina, but I’ve never had a bit of luck. Maybe this year it’s time to find another oriole feeder and give it another try!

  2. Paula Bonelli says

    Thanks for this great oriole post. I’m anxious for mine to return. I didn’t know they liked mealworms…I’ll have to give that a try too.

  3. Barb says

    I have tried to get orioles to my yard for about 3-4 years doing many of the suggetions you mentioned. Then this year in my 1st year of retirement I was lucky & had several orioles enjoying oranges, nectar, and jelly on my porch early to mid May. It was so exciting & I felt so rewarded for waiting. Then all of a sudden about 5 days ago they were not in sight & have not been around since. I live in western PA. Please advise. I am so disappointed not having them.

  4. Maria says

    In Northern Illinois we wait all year for spring & the bird’s return. This year I was prepared with a feeder & also grape jelly & oranges…& the male showed up on May 22! Now I know where the nest is (with binoculars but have not seen the female close up) they visit the feeder & go thru lots of nectar water & love the grape jam which i spread on the 1/2 oranges. We have an acre + many tall trees but i have still not heard the song! maybe next year…Also have many bird baths,hummingbird feeders, suet feeders & thistle out for the other birds. I love retirement as i now have time to just sit & watch.

  5. Jann says

    I live in Danville, PA, and three days ago identified a female Baltimore Oriole at one of my seed feeders! What in the world is she doing here now? I’ve never had any orioles before, and have never put any oriole feeders out, but today I went out and bought one and put an orange half and grape jelly and raisins on it. In late afternoon, she was back, but I only saw her on the seed feeder (which currently has niger and black sunflower seeds in it), and she was eating. Do you have any other suggestions as to what I should put out? I didn’t put nectar in it because the night time temperatures might dip below freezing. Do they like the dead mealworms? Also, any idea how she’s here? Early start north, or never got far south? She’s beautiful. Any input would be appreciated!

  6. Shari says

    I have orioles here for the 3rd or 4th year now. This morning, I saw a smaller bird eating the oranges & wondered….could it be a young one or is there another bird that looks very similar to an oriole? any help would be appreciated….I took a picture with my phone, but it isn’t very good…the camera is now out for a better picture if it returns!
    Shari

  7. Joyce says

    I have 3 hummingbird feeders in my yard and have always had many hummingbirds hanging out in my southeast Michigan yard. We have 6 acres, many of which are wooded. I’ve never had an oriole feeder, but in late May I noticed orioles feeding off my hummingbird feeders. I had to do a google search of “what other birds will feed off a hummingbird feeder” because I knew nothing about orioles at that time. I bought an oriole feeder with bee guards, but the orioles won’t feed off it…..in fact it has become a magnet for bees!! The orioles still feed off my hummingbird feeders, on and off, much to the dismay of the hummingbirds.

  8. says

    I was curious if you ever considered changing the page layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  9. Penne says

    For two years we have enjoyed watching a pair of these birds. They love to use the flower basket liners for building the nest.
    I also use a recording of the song they sing and they actually repsonded.

  10. Charlotte Hayes says

    I live in Leadington, Mo (few minute drive from Farmington, Mo. about 70 miles south of St. Louis) My question is I get the Baltimore Orioles every spring. But they only stay a few days and then they leave….I have grape jelly, orange slices, & an orange Oriole sugar water feeder for them…
    My question is how can I get them to stay?….. Is Farmington an area for them just to pass through on their destination route to where they are going?
    Please give me some suggestions on how I can keep them once they arrive! I love them! They are such beautiful birds!
    Thank You for any help or advice….
    Char Hayes

    • Donna Lucas says

      I live in lower Michigan and for YEARS have seen these lovely birds come through our area , but not hang around . I had tried EVERYTHING suggested and STILL nothing , till one summer . I have the old hummingbird feeders with the four flower cups and bee guards . Four summers ago , our squirrel tore off several of the bee guards and lord and behold … the oreoles (sp) started flocking to this feeder and fighting each other for the nectar . I went and removed the bee guards from the other 3 hummingbird feeders and before I knew it … my yard was FULL of these birds . Also , I cut jute string and kite string into two foot lengths and draped them across out split rail fence and we LOVE watching them getting their mouths full and flying to their nesting trees . Please try this ….

  11. Sylvia Chavez says

    We have a couple of orioles in our yard in Santa Fe, NM, for the first time! They were attracted by hummingbird feeders, and I put out an oriole feeder as soon as they were spotted. So far, they’ve been around for about a week.

  12. Joanne Hilden says

    I’ve never had orioles that stayed longer than a week or so. This year when they came I got the grape jelly in bowls on my deck railing & went to town & got oranges. I currently have 14 or more orioles coming to my deck & a male that swoops my patio door when they need more jelly. I ran out of grape so I gave them apple jelly that I made last year. I’ve gone through 8 pints of jelly in a little over 2 weeks! (Princeton, Minnesota)

  13. Pete Pierce says

    I have quite a group of Baltimore orioles returning each year, including a a couple orchard orioles. Over the years we’ve supplied nectar, jelly and nesting material. One of the female Baltimores is building two nests about two feet apart. One nest is 1/4 done and the other is almost finished. Both nests are new (not an old one she’s using to rebuild with). Does this happen very often? Have you heard of it before? And wondering… What happens if/when she starts laying eggs in both nests?

    Pete

  14. Nikki says

    I’ve had my feeders out since March 15th, lol. I’ve seen both the male and female in my yard (I tend to have one pair in my area every year), but alas, they do not come to the feeders. Maybe after the babies leave the nests… I’ve seen the male chasing black birds (grackles and crows) in my neighborhood many times, so a nest must be nearby. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    PS- I have out nectar, grape jelly, oranges, and dried meal worms. I’ve seen Robins and many Catbirds eat the jelly. A hummingbird tried the oriole nectar once, even though I have out hummingbird feeders as well lol.

  15. Denise Toman says

    I was wanting to know, once you attract a pair of orioles, will they come back the following year? We have our first pair this year with some nice photos although the male is very skiddish and she is not so much I just wonder if I will be so lucky to have them back next year as summer guest.

  16. SueBee2013 says

    There has been an Oriole (or Orioles) in my back yard for about a week now. It is mid June. I was curious what attracted them. Last fall I planted a very vibrant orange Asian lily…bloomed just prior to the arrival of the Oriole(s).

  17. Acillian says

    We have been attracting Baltimore Orioles for years. We originally tried using oriole feeders but quickly learned that they loved the sweet mixture I use for my hummingbirds: 1/3 c sugar to 1 cup water early in the season to attract them, then taper to about 1/4 cup sugar once they have been around a week or two. I removed 2 of the little plastic flowers from the hummingbird feeder to create a larger hole for them to eat from. The hummingbirds and orioles share the same feeder. We are in Northeast Ohio and I generally start putting the feeders out at the first sign of warm weather. It’s also important to maintain the feeder. In hot weather it should be changed at least every 3 days. They are so pretty to see!
    Good luck!

  18. Joe Kirk says

    These comments are great but It would help if everyone would include where they are located so you can relate to a certian story . Thank You Joe Kirk

  19. M Jade says

    We have had the orioles coming for 4 years now. Each year they nested and brought the young to the multiple grape jelly feeders and hummer feeders. In late March/early april I put out orange slices in area trees. Robins like them as well. Today May7 there are 7 males and 2 females snacking at the multiple feeders near my kitchen windows. They even have been eating at the suet/seed feeders. Weather has been too cold for many insects.

  20. jay says

    I live in northern Alberta Canada, and we have had a Baltimore orilole, male and female come to our yard for the past 5 years, we put out a big orange ball with necter in it ,they love it, the bird book says they don’t come this far north, but they are here,every year for only about a month

  21. sonia says

    We just discovered we have a nest of baltimore orioles. I live in the eastern part of the country in Connecticut. Didnt know what the object was hanging in the tree. Very excited cant wait till they hatch

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