How to Attract Orioles and Tanagers with Jelly

Jelly bellies! Serve up a sweet, jiggly treat to attract colorful orioles and tanagers to your backyard.

Go beyond birdseed and mix up your backyard menu with grape jelly. Fruit-eating birds like orioles, catbirds and tanagers can’t get enough of the stuff, especially now, when their usual sweet treats are hard to come by. And as migrating birds make their long journeys north, they’re especially inclined to stop by backyards that feature energizing jelly on the menu.

Orioles aren’t too picky when it comes to jelly, but Bullock’s and Baltimore orioles in particular love the grape flavor, because it tastes similar to the dark, ripe fruits they normally eat, grapes included. Watch your feeder long enough and you might also glimpse other guests, like gray catbirds, which are attracted to yards that offer both jelly and a water source. Additional birds that visit these sweet feeders, especially during their migration, include summer and scarlet tanagers, northern mockingbirds and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Woodpeckers and house finches might also stop by.

The best way to set out jelly is in a tray or dish about 1 inch deep and 3 to 4 inches wide. Wild bird feed supply stores offer different types of jelly feeders. A popular one is a small glass dish nestled between three prongs. It has an ant trap beneath it, so insects can’t steal away the sweetness. You can also hang it on a pole for extra protection. Just make sure you keep it away from marauding squirrels and in a place where you can easily clean and refill it.

Courtesy Diana Wolfe
Diana Wolfe (B&B reader) Baltimore orioles love oranges and grape jelly.

Although there’s no way to stop bees from taking advantage of jelly served from open-style feeders, oriole feeders with bee guards are available. They have a design similar to a hummingbird feeder, but instead of filling them with nectar, you fill them with just enough grape jelly to reach the feeding ports.

You should also purchase jelly that doesn’t have artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors. Check the jelly daily to watch for mold. Always clean the feeder out and add fresh stuff if the jelly starts looking dubious.

Get your jelly feeder up in April, when migration is in full swing. It may take some time for orioles to find your jelly feeders. Birds need to feed their young protein-rich foods, like insects, but once the offspring have fledged, their parents often bring them to jelly feeders. The feeder will probably see less and less action as summer continues, but things should pick up again during fall migration.

PB&J in the Backyard

Birds love this classic pairing just as much as people do. Stuff peanut butter into log-feeder holes or smear it on tree bark to give visiting blue jays and woodpeckers a protein boost.

Read more: Feeding Birds Peanuts in the Backyard

DIY Bird Feeder for Peanuts

9 Nutty Facts About Peanuts and How to Grow Them

Sheryl DeVore
Sheryl DeVore is a science, nature, health and social Issues writer, editor, educator and wild birds expert.