How to Identify a Bullock’s Oriole

Updated: Jul. 11, 2024

Spot a Bullock's oriole in the western U.S. during breeding season. Learn what the males and females look like and hear their song.

What Does a Bullock’s Oriole Look Like?

Walter Nussbaumer
Bullock’s oriole, male
Vicki Miller
Females have more muted colors

To put it simply, the Bullock’s oriole is a bewitching bird if you’re lucky enough to spot one. “Everybody is excited to see such a charismatic, beautiful species,” says Boaz “Bo” Crees, an avian specialist for Montana Audubon.

Check out the 8 types of orioles to look for in North America.

Baltimore orioles and Bullock’s orioles are often confused for one another because of their similar colorings. In both species, males feature black on their heads and backs. A key difference is that Bullock’s orioles “have a black eyeline against an orange cheek, instead of an all-black head,” Bo says.

Female Bullock’s are more muted, with yellowish orange heads and throats, whitish bellies and grayish backs. Both males and females sport large white wing bars and measure about 8 inches long with a 12 inch wingspan.

Scientific Name: Icterus bullockii
Family: Blackbird

Bullock’s Oriole Nesting Habits

female bullock's oriole and juvenileCourtesy Karen Osadchey
A female Bullock’s oriole feeding insects to a juvenile

This species weaves a bag-like structure in a tree and lays three to seven eggs inside. Pairs use natural fibers to create gourd-shaped houses that dangle up to 25 feet off the ground.

Nest construction can take up to 15 days. Discover how orioles weave their elaborate nests.

What Do Bullock’s Orioles Eat?

birds that eat oranges, fruit bird feeders, bullocks orioleCourtesy Karen Osadchey
Bullock’s oriole eating an orange

Orioles are brought to feeders by familiar fruity fare: orange wedges, grapes, bananas, berries and apples. And at times they’ll also stop at a sugar-water feeder or sample fruit-filled suet. Bullock’s orioles also eat insects. “They have a fairly slender beak that’s a really good tweezer for picking up grubs or getting nectar,” Bo says.

05 Bbam23 Lauradent (1)Courtesy Laura Dent
Young male on a feeder
"Bullock’s orioles nest in our big willow tree every spring. They build a hanging nest and usually raise two chicks. They love grape jelly, and this is a young male who comes by for a treat."
Laura dent
Birds & Blooms reader

Bullock’s are in the U.S. only during their breeding season. To spot an oriole during migration, set out supper early in spring to increase your chances. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends that you “start putting out food before migrants arrive in your area; if it’s not there when they first canvas your yard, they’ll keep going.”

Get more tips on how to attract orioles.

Bullock’s Oriole Song

305394005 1 Carl Muehlemeyer Bnb Pc 2022Courtesy Carl Muehlemeyer
Look and listen for Bullock’s orioles in springtime

Bullock’s orioles produce noises ranging from rich whistling songs to gruff, scratchy notes and rattles.

Listen to this bird’s song to help you identify them.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Learn what a Baltimore oriole song sounds like.

Range and Habitat

Bullock's Oriole Perching In Willow Tree VerticalWilliam Leaman/Alamy Stock Photo
Bullock’s oriole perching in a willow tree

Baltimore orioles are seen in the eastern United States, while Bullock’s are found throughout much of the West beyond the Great Plains. That said, these two orioles do hybridize on the Great Plains. At one point, they were lumped together under the name northern oriole before being split into two separate species.

During migration, take a nature walk near water if you want to spot these birds. “If you see a cottonwood tree and vibrant orange, you’ve likely got an oriole on your hands,” Bo says, noting that orioles particularly like woodlands near water.

Also check sycamores and willows for oriole indications. Those resource-rich trees offer orioles some concealing cover, abundant insects and copious materials for their intricately woven hanging nests.

Bullocks Oriole Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Next, learn how to identify orchard orioles.

About the Expert

Boaz “Bo” Crees is an avian specialist for Montana Audubon. He previously worked with the Montana Natural Heritage Program and has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana.