How to Feed Orioles: What Do Orioles Eat?

Orioles don't eat birdseed. Experts answer how to feed orioles and what do orioles eat to help birders bring more of these birds to the backyard.

Among the most sought-after backyard birds, Baltimore orioles, orchard orioles, and Bullock’s orioles boast bright orange and black coloration and build interesting gourd-shaped nests at the end of tree branches. Some folks seem to have plenty of luck bringing these birds to their backyard feeders, while others struggle year after year to bring these elusive flyers in. Learn what foods orioles eat and how to feed orioles.

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. David Musumeche of Backyard Chirper says, “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. You can also build your own oriole feeders.

Orioles Love to Eat Grape Jelly

Orioles love sweet sugary treats in spring, as they finish their long migrations. Grape jelly and fruit are high-energy foods that give them the boost they need to sustain their travels. To feed orioles, most backyard birders swear by offering grape jelly. Birds & Blooms reader LuAnn Crim says, “You can feed orioles cheap grape jelly in small tuna-sized cans or Miracle Whip lids. Just fasten the container DOWN, or they’ll knock it right to the ground.”

  • EXPERT TIP: You can mix the grape jelly with water to make it stretch a bit farther. Combine one part grape jelly to one part water in your blender and mix until it has the consistency of thick juice.

Orioles Like Orange—and Oranges

Orange halves and slices are a favorite oriole treat. Most oriole feeders include a way to offer oranges to orioles. Some people find that orioles don’t feed from them, but most have observed that at least having the color orange on your feeder will help to attract them. Reader Diane B notes, “Make sure your feeder has an orange color on it. I usually make sure the roof is orange so they see it as they fly over.”

  • EXPERT TIP: Set orange halves in a shallow dish of water to discourage ants. Change out your orange halves every day. They dry out quickly and can grow mold, which is harmful to birds.

Orioles Drink 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 and drink. They are attracted to the color orange, so specific feeders have been designed to meet their needs. Orioles also like the same sugar water your hummingbirds do.
  • EXPERT TIP: You can buy nectar feeders made just for orioles, but as long as your hummingbird feeder offers perches around the edge, there’s no need for separate feeders unless one species starts chasing off the other.

Feed Orioles Mealworms in Summer

Once nesting season begins, orioles change their food source to insects, which provide more protein and nutritional value. Orioles love caterpillars in the wild. You can offer mealworms as an alternative in your own backyard, presented in an open dish. Orioles may also visit suet feeders at this time.

  • EXPERT TIP: Use your oriole feeder’s grape jelly dish to offer mealworms once nesting season begins.

Start Early to Feed Orioles and Don’t Give Up

Probably the most important tip for feeding orioles in your yard is timing. Experts and amateurs alike note that it’s vital to have your oriole feeders out at least several weeks before you expect orioles in your area. If the birds don’t spot the feeders as soon as they arrive in the spring, they’re unlikely to start using them later.
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. Here’s more advice on how to attract orioles and the oriole species birders should know.
  • EXPERT TIP: Orioles begin arriving in April in the southern states and in May farther north.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.