8 Types of Orioles to Look for in North America
Eye-catching orioles come decked out in orange and yellow feathers. Get to know the types of orioles in North America that you should know.
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A flash of glowing orange among the pale green of new leaves and a melodious whistle floating on the breeze—after you’ve seen an oriole on a spring morning, you’ll understand why these songbirds are perennial favorites. The Baltimore oriole, common all over the East in the warmer months, is the most famous member of the clan, but you can see seven additional types of orioles across North America.
“Oriole” is based on several Latin words that all mean “golden.” The name was first applied to a European bird, a member of what is now called the Old World oriole family. However, American orioles are completely unrelated. They are classified in the blackbird family, along with such birds as grackles, red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks. The tropics of Mexico and Central and South America are home to more than 30 types of orioles, so the eight found north of the Texas-Mexico border are just the tip of the colorful iceberg. Read more! 8 surprising facts about orioles.
Here’s where and how to spot the types of orioles regularly found in the U.S. and Canada.
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. Where they meet on the western Great Plains, the two sometimes interbreed, creating hybrids. For a few years they were categorized into one species called “Northern oriole,” and you can still find that name in some older books.
Most fly to the tropics for the winter, but increasing numbers of Baltimore orioles are now staying through the cold months in some eastern states where people keep feeders filled to attract them. Some Baltimore orioles spend their winters as far north as the extreme Southeast coast of the U.S.
Decked out in orange and black, male Bullock’s orioles add dazzling color to western backyards in summer. 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. Learn how to attract orioles to your backyard.
Widespread in the East and parts of the Southwest in summer, orchard orioles are smaller than other orioles. Adult males have a unique color combination with deep chestnut instead of orange and yellow. 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 oriole 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. Psst—learn what orioles eat.
Commonly seen in the arid Southwest, the Scott’s oriole 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 oriole 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. Scott’s orioles are found from eastern California and northern Utah to the Hill Country of central Texas. Open woodlands of juniper or oak may be good habitats for them. But they’re especially drawn to areas with lots of yucca plants, building their nests among the long, daggerlike yucca leaves. The rich, bubbling song of the male Scott’s oriole carries for long distances across arid hillsides. Learn how to feed grape jelly to orioles and tanagers.
In summer, hooded orioles are common from coastal California to southern Texas, chiefly in lowland riversides, canyons and backyards. They often place their nests in palm trees, using the long, strong fibers of palm leaves as nesting material. But if no palms are available, they’ll readily nest in sycamores, cottonwoods or other trees. Adult males are primarily orange (including an orange “hood”) with black accents. The small, slender female hooded oriole often builds her nest in palm trees, where she literally sews the saclike nest onto a palm leaf.
Altamira Oriole, Audubon’s Oriole
The southern tip of Texas is home to two lesser known orioles, Altamira and Audubon’s. Unlike the more northern species, these two are nonmigratory. They stick around all winter in that subtropical climate. Another difference from their northern cousins: the sexes look the same. Both male and female Altamira orioles look like supersized male hooded orioles. The female Altamira builds an astounding nest, a hanging bag of plant fibers that may be 2 feet long, sometimes suspended from telephone wires.
Audubon’s orioles are not so flamboyant; both males and females are mainly yellow, with black head, wings and tail. The Audubon’s song is slow and hesitant, like a person learning how to whistle.
Learn about 8 different kinds of bird nests and how to spot them.
In the past, southern Florida had no orioles in the summer, just Baltimore and orchard orioles during migration and winter. But some spot-breasted orioles—native to Central America and sometimes kept as cage birds—escaped from captivity near Miami in the 1940s. They established a population in suburbs around southeastern Florida. This is another tropical species in which the males and females look alike.
With all these possibilities, you have a chance to see orioles practically anywhere. With a little luck, these golden birds may treat you to a glimpse right outside your window.
Next, check out the 51 best spring bird pictures ever.