Orchard Oriole vs. Baltimore Oriole
An oriole that’s smaller and much darker than a Baltimore oriole dashes through the flowering trees. The bird you’ve spotted is probably an orchard oriole. The two birds share similar markings, but where a male Baltimore oriole has a bright pop of orange, the orchard oriole sports a darker chestnut color. This is the smallest of the eight oriole species found north of Mexico. It has a wingspan of a little more than 9 inches. For comparison, the Baltimore oriole’s wingspan is nearly 12 inches.
Female Orchard Oriole
Female orchard and female Baltimore orioles look alike, too. They share a warm-hued chest, head and tail feathers, but the female Baltimore has touches of tangerine orange while the orchard’s color runs closer to greenish yellow. Female orchard orioles are the primary nest builders (though their mates may sometimes help), constructing their homes in forks of branches. Over the course of a week, they weave grass and other flexible plant fibers into a pouch or a basket, then line the nests with softer plant down and feathers. Discover how orioles weave elaborate nests.
Orchard Oriole Habitat
Unlike some other birds, orchard orioles will share their territory in the summer. In fact, one tree may hold several nesting pairs. They build their homes alongside other bird species, too, such as American robins, eastern kingbirds and the look-alike Baltimore orioles. Orchard orioles usually prefer open woodlands, lakeshores, parks, farms and, of course, orchards. They spend time in treetops and bushes where they forage for insects and spiders with their sharp, thin beaks. Learn how to identify baby orioles and juvenile orioles.
What Do Orchard Orioles Eat?
Early May is the perfect time to attract this species as the hungry migrants travel north. Just like Baltimore orioles, orchards have a sweet tooth and drop by backyards with the right spread of fruit and nectar offerings. They’re even known to stop at sugar-water feeders. “One great way to attract orioles is by offering orange halves. Just stick the oranges on a nail and enjoy watching the orioles feast,” says Emma Greig, the project leader for Project FeederWatch of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Grape jelly is always an oriole favorite, but serve it in moderation. If you’re worried about bugs eating more of the jelly than the birds do, Emma has a solution. “Try moving jelly feeders around your backyard periodically. Birds will notice them in their new locations more quickly than insects. And remember that insects are good creatures to have in your yard, especially pollinators like bees, so don’t despair if they insist on having a small share of the jelly.”
Orioles and hummingbirds love nectar, and they pollinate flowers by inadvertently transferring pollen from bloom to bloom as they feed. Orchard orioles sometimes bypass a flower’s pollen entirely, piercing the flower’s base and getting a taste for free. They also load up on berries, like ripe mulberries and chokeberries to help them on their journey south.
Check out 10 birds that look like orioles.
Orchard Oriole Range
Look for orchard orioles east of the Rocky Mountains in their breeding season, from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Migration back to their winter homes begins in mid-to-late summer, and even as early as mid-July. Learn more about Baltimore oriole migration.
Gene Stratton-Porter, a naturalist in the early years of the 20th century, described the Baltimore oriole song as “spilling notes of molten sweetness, as it shot like a ray of detached sunshine.” It’s true, nothing brightens a day like this member of the blackbird family, thanks to its striking orange breast, black head and white-barred wings, plus its bold, melodic call.
“I love Baltimore orioles’ song and gorgeous colors. When they sing, it’s like happiness put to birdsong,” says Grace Huffman of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
It’s primarily the male birds that sing, mostly in the breeding season, and they use their songs to announce a territory claim. If you see a male Baltimore oriole singing away, he’s warning other males that this plot of ground is already taken and to stay off his turf. A Baltimore oriole song can also serve to attract a female or to help the male stay in touch with his mate, but territorial defense seems to be the main motivation. Discover how orioles weave elaborate nests.
During the spring mating season, male orioles attract females by singing, chattering and hopping from branch to branch. If a female is interested, the male bows and fans his wings and tail, then the female responds by singing and quivering her wings. Check out sweet photos that show how birds flirt and attract mates.
Listen each spring for a Baltimore oriole’s loud, rich song in a tree above you, as if they’re whistling a tune to tell you where to find them.
Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
What Does a Baby Oriole Look Like?
You may be familiar with orioles’ unique woven nests, but most people have never seen a baby oriole because orioles are secretive during nesting season. Wow, they are cute!
Birds & Blooms reader Marybeth Zilnicki says, “I have been attracting and feeding Baltimore orioles in my backyard. I watched them build the nest in a tree over my porch. Once the baby orioles were born, I watched both parents feed and take care of them. I was lucky to see them leave the nest and this little guy (above) settle on my fence. I loved how the feathers looked and how my tree reflected in his eye.”
Young male Baltimore orioles have a yellowish-orange breast, gray on the head and back, and white wing bars.
Learn how to identify oriole eggs.
What Do Baby Orioles Eat?
If orioles are nesting in your yard, the reward comes when they bring their young to your feeders. During the breeding season, orioles focus on more protein-rich food, foraging mostly for insects to feed their young. But once the young orioles have fledged, the parents frequently bring them to visit feeders. To see baby orioles, we suggest that you keep tabs on when the parents disappear, give it three to four weeks, and begin offering food again, including oranges, sugar water and grape jelly. You may be rewarded with visits from the parents and the youngsters!
Check out more super cute photos of baby birds.
Juvenile Baltimore Oriole
Females and first-year males don’t have bright orange plumage like adult male Baltimore orioles. Juveniles tend to be more dull, with yellow-brown feathers.
“I took this photo of a male juvenile Baltimore oriole in my backyard in the summertime. They are so beautiful and are one of my favorite birds to watch,” says reader Heather Kruse.
Discover 8 surprising Baltimore oriole facts.
Juvenile Orchard Oriole
Randy Walnik of Midland, Michigan, shared this photo (above) of a juvenile male orchard oriole. In their first year, male orchard orioles look like females, sporting yellow-green feathers. Sometime that fall, they develop a black mask.
Juvenile orchard orioles look like the bird (above) for the next 12 months. In the fall of their second year, they molt their feathers again, finally donning their rich chestnut and black mature feathers.
Check out the 8 types of orioles to look for in North America.
Whether you’re a beginner or experienced birder, these four birding spots in the lower Rio Grande Valley deserve a special visit.
1. Resaca de la Palma State Park
Grab your binoculars and head to Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville, Texas. Walk along more than 8 miles of trails or rent a bicycle for the weekend. You can search for green jays, least grebes and Harris’s hawks—all commonly spotted within the park. Psst—south Texas is also a butterfly hotspot for hundreds of rare butterflies.
2. Sabal Palm Sanctuary
View many must-see Rio Grande Valley birds, including the plain chachalaca, white-tipped dove and buff-bellied hummingbird, at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary. If a trip to Texas isn’t in your near future, do some virtual birding by watching the bird feeder cam on the sanctuary’s website.
Want to see more species? Go birdwatching in different habitats!
3. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
A short drive away in Los Fresnos, the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is a top location for the rare aplomado falcon and a wide variety of wading birds and shorebirds. Be sure to check out the feeders stationed around the visitor center.
Get to know the beach birds you may see at coastal birding hotspots.
4. South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary
Not far from Brownsville, Texas, the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary gives visitors and locals alike fantastic options for spotting Rio Grande Valley birds throughout the year. Register on the sanctuary’s website for a guided tour with an educator. Or take a stroll along a boardwalk that’s more than 3,000 feet long. For an even better view, climb the five-story viewing tower.
For more Texas travel, explore the Piney Woods and rose capital of America and the oldest town in Texas.
Both yellow warblers and American goldfinches are small bright yellow colored songbirds. But there are some distinct differences between a yellow warbler vs goldfinch.
Plant a couple of small trees in your yard for yellow warblers to build nests and hunt for caterpillars and bugs. These tiny yellow birds are insect-eaters, and your best chance of spotting them is during spring migration. It’s one of the most common warbler species, and you won’t have to go deep into the forest to see one. Yellow warblers may be can spotted near open woods, streams, orchards and even on roadsides. The male features vivid yellow feathers with reddish brown streaks on the chest and a dark bill. Female yellow warblers look similar but are less vibrant.
American goldfinches are year-round birds in much of the country. The species is so widespread and popular, it’s the state bird of three states. Like yellow warblers, goldfinches are vibrant yellow birds—at least during spring and summer. Male and female goldfinches appear quite different during breeding season, when males molt into bright yellow body feathers with black wings and black cap (similar to a Wilson’s warbler) and an orange bill. Juveniles and female goldfinches are less colorful. In winter, males have a dark bill and dull yellow body feathers. One other way to tell the difference between a yellow warbler vs a goldfinch is that goldfinches have white patches under their tails.
Goldfinches are primarily seed eaters, cracking them open with their short bills. To attract goldfinches, offer Njyer and black oil sunflower seeds in your bird feeders.
Check out the best finch feeders to serve thistle seed.
Orioles are the seamstresses of the bird world. Oriole nests are marvels of avian architecture: hanging pouches or bags of tightly woven plant fibers, attached by their edges and suspended from twigs. Check out 8 different kinds of bird nests and how to spot them.
What Does an Oriole Nest Look Like?
Female orioles are remarkable builders known for their skill at weaving. Orioles use whatever material is available—long grasses, twine, even horsehair. The pouches are lined with soft materials such as plant fibers, feathers or animal wool. Oriole nests measure about 4 inches deep and 4 inches across, with a small opening at the top about 2 to 3 inches wide. Many are deeper than they are wide. The Altamira oriole of extreme south Texas and Central America constructs one of the longest dangling nests, which can hang down more than 2 feet. Learn how to attract orioles to your backyard.
Where Do Orioles Nest?
Orioles do not use birdhouses, but will raise a family in your yard if you have fairly tall trees nearby. Many orioles look for tall deciduous trees. Despite their distinctive appearance, oriole nests can be hard to spot. They’re often surrounded by heavy foliage. Backyard birders often discover one in their trees only after the leaves have fallen in autumn. Orioles construct their pendulous sac-shaped nests on the ends of slender branches. This precarious placement keeps the eggs and babies relatively safe from climbing predators and other nest robbers. Learn how to identify Baltimore oriole eggs by color and size.
Baltimore Oriole Nests
Like the other types of orioles, Baltimore orioles gather fibers, including twine and string, to create gourd-shaped pouches hanging from the tips of branches in spring. A male Baltimore oriole doesn’t take part in building or incubation. But after the eggs hatch, he brings almost half the food for the youngsters. Check out more surprising Baltimore oriole facts.
Oriole Nest Building
The female works on the pouch from the inside. She forms the bottom to the shape of her body. It usually takes female orioles about a week to build a nest. But in bad weather, it can take as long as 12 to 15 days. It might even take a female Altamira oriole up to three weeks.
Wondering what orioles eat? Learn how to feed orioles.
Dipping your toes in the ocean surf should be on everyone’s bucket list. I didn’t make it to the coast until I was in my 20s, but that first splash of California salt water is something I’ll never forget. For hours, my buddy Scott and I scampered along the edge of the water with childlike enthusiasm. We found delight in peering into tide pools and following along as sanderlings scurried in and out with every wave. The beach hosts an amazing array of creatures—especially birds. As birding locations go, it’s pretty remarkable to think that some avian species thrive exclusively along the coasts, never venturing away from the waves and sand. Yet they’re often overlooked, or dismissed as just “seagulls.” They clearly aren’t just bumming around on vacation, though. Let’s explore some of these beach birds.
Not all shorebirds live at the edge of water, but there are plenty that do depend on the shifting ocean tides. There’s a good chance your first shorebird encounter, like mine, will be with sanderlings, members of the sandpiper family. These energetic beach birds are always scuttling about, darting in to grab a bite of food before outrunning the splash of the next wave. Sanderlings breed in the high Arctic but spend winters along sandy beaches nearly worldwide.
Take our shorebird quiz to see how many species you can identify.
Sandpipers, Willets and Dunlins
Some of the other sandpipers to look for are least, semipalmated and western. There’s also the red knot, which has a plump body and thick black bill, and the willet, a large 15-inch bird that you can find inland in some areas as well.
That’s just the beginning, though. The sandpiper group includes many others, which can make ID a bit tricky. But I encourage you to take on the challenge. It helps to have a good field guide with you. I personally like the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America. It’s compact enough to fit in my back pocket—and, after all, Kenn Kaufman is one of the birding experts for Birds & Blooms.
You’re almost guaranteed a few plover sightings if you’re visiting a beach town. Some plovers make their home on the coasts throughout the year, while others breed inland and winter at the beach. The killdeer, for instance, is a widespread plover that is as much at home at the edge of a parking lot as it is along the coast. If you spot a similar-looking but smaller bird, you could be looking at a semipalmated plover. In addition to the size difference, semipalms have only one black neckband, while the killdeer has two. Another killdeer doppelganger is the rarer piping plover.
Two other coastal plovers are the Wilson’s and the snowy plover. The Wilson’s is content with coastal living year-round; it can be seen along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic north to the Delmarva Peninsula. Snowy plovers are common on the Pacific and Gulf coasts, but their breeding grounds are also scattered through the western interior of North America.
One more to look for is the black-bellied plover. Don’t let its name fool you—it doesn’t always have a black belly. It does always have black wingpits, though. These stout-bodied birds have short, thick bills; they winter along both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, where they thrive on small invertebrates.
Gulls, Terns and Skimmers
Although there’s no such thing as a “seagull,” there are many gulls that live by the sea. Laughing gulls in the East and glaucous-winged, western, and Heermann’s gulls in the West are species with limited ranges along the coasts. You’re likely to see the more widespread ring-billed and herring gulls at the beach, too.
Terns are another group of conspicuous, mostly white coastal birds. They generally have thinner wings and appear daintier in flight than their relatives the gulls. Nearly a dozen species of terns can show up along the shore at some point. The species largely limited to coastal zones include the royal, elegant, roseate, sandwich and the somewhat confusingly named gull-billed.
One highly specialized relative of the terns is the black skimmer. When foraging, the skimmer flies with its long lower bill in the water, trolling for minnows.
More Beach Birds: Pelicans and Oystercatchers
Some of the most familiar birds of the coasts today, brown pelicans were once rare. It’s fun to watch them plunge headfirst into the water to feed. Look for American white pelicans, too.
Other standouts are the black oystercatcher of the Pacific and the American oystercatcher of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Both sport massive orange bills that may look cartoonish but are essential in prying open oyster, mussel, clam and limpet shells.
Whether you’ve lived on the coast your entire life or are visiting for the very first time, you can’t help but notice that the seacoast is a special place. If you make your next vacation a coastal trip, you’re sure to spot many of these intriguing beach birds. Check out the top birding trips to escape the winter months.
Beach Birding Hotspots
Take a look at some of the best places in North America to see shorebirds and beach birds.
- Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska: With nearly 1,200 miles of coast, Glacier Bay provides ample opportunity to watch birds, along with the added bonus of the chance to see bears and glaciers.
- Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station, California: Nearly 490 bird species have been recorded at Point Reyes National Seashore, making it a premier coastal birding location along the West Coast.
- J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, Florida: Named for the renowned political cartoonist, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is critical habitat to a few species of sea turtle and plenty of beach birds.
- Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague Island, Virginia: Be it the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean, you’re never far from water anywhere along the Delmarva Peninsula, and Chincoteague is in the middle of the coastal birding action.
- Prince Edward Island National Park, Canada: A habitat for numerous bird species, this national park along the north coast of Canada’s Prince Edward Island is also where you’ll find Lucy Maud Montgomery’s childhood home, made famous in her book, Anne of Green Gables.
Migration time: It’s one of the most rewarding parts of watching birds. The way migratory birds show up right on time in spring and fall, with each species following its own schedule, is both enjoyable and reassuring. But even though the routes and timetables may seem predictable, some birds do change their flight patterns over the years or decades. Here are a few examples of bird migration patterns that have changed. Learn more bird migration secrets.
Rufous Hummingbird Migration Pattern
Nesting in the Northwest, from Wyoming to southern Alaska, rufous hummingbirds have traditionally spent the winter in Mexico. A few had always wandered east in fall, but until recent decades, they would not have survived the winter there. Now, however, gardeners all over the Gulf Coast and beyond have established winter havens for hummingbirds, with flowers that bloom through the season and plenty of sugar-water feeders. From east Texas to Florida and north at least to the Carolinas, hundreds of rufous hummingbirds now spend the entire winter, and some individuals may come back to the same gardens year after year. Learn more about where hummingbirds migrate in winter.
Canada Geese Migration Pattern
Once, Canada geese were symbols of the wilderness. In most parts of the U.S., they were absent in summer. Their flocks would arrive from the north along with the cold winds of autumn, and they would leave to go back to Canada early in the spring.
As recently as the 1950s, some people feared that Canada geese might disappear completely. Various state wildlife agencies began trying to establish new flocks by raising young geese in captivity and releasing them locally. But because geese learn bird migration patterns from their parents, these newly introduced flocks lacked the know-how to migrate, so they became permanent residents. Today they are found year-round in wild marshes, city parks and golf courses over much of the U.S. Meanwhile, flocks of wild geese still migrate from the Arctic to the central states and back again, overlapping in some seasons with their nonmigratory cousins. Check out the best birding hotspots for spring migration.
Barn Swallow Migration Pattern
Nesting in South America
There are dozens of kinds of long-distance migrant birds from North America that fly to South America for the winter. But these migratory birds never stay to nest on the southern continent. Well, almost never.
During the last few decades, barn swallows have broken all the rules of bird migration patterns. They had always been known as wintering birds all over South America. In 1980, observers were startled to find six pairs actually nesting and raising young near Buenos Aires, Argentina. It seemed like a fluke, but it was really the start of something big. Their numbers have increased ever since, and there are now thousands of pairs of barn swallows nesting in Argentina—a range extension of about 4,000 miles from anywhere they had nested before! Learn to identify 8 types of swallows.
Lesser Black-Backed Gull Migration Pattern
More Common in North America
In Europe, lesser black-backed gulls are common. But they were never found in this country until 1934, when a single bird appeared in New Jersey. The species continued to be a very rare winter visitor until the 1970s, but then numbers started to increase.
Were these gulls just getting better at flying from Europe to North America? No. They had begun nesting in Iceland, much closer to this continent, and the increasing population there made it easier for a few to reach our shores instead of going back to Europe for the winter. By 1990 there were colonies of them nesting in southwest Greenland, even closer to eastern Canada and the U.S. Lesser black-backed gulls are no longer rare on our side of the Atlantic; they have been seen throughout the lower 48 states and most of Canada, and dozens or even hundreds may be found at some sites in winter. Learn more about coastal fliers and beach birding locations.
Sandhill Crane Migration Pattern
Expanding Winter Range
Sandhill cranes have a complicated distribution. Some flocks spend the winter in Texas or Mexico and migrate north to Alaska, even crossing to Siberia. Some other flocks are year-round residents of Florida or other warm places. The population from the upper Midwest used to migrate to Florida for the winter, but now their winter range is expanding.
At one time, sandhill cranes nesting in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan would spend part of the fall in portions of Indiana and Michigan before flying down to central Florida. But in recent years, many of those migrants have stayed later and later in the Midwest, and then have flown only partway to Florida, stopping off in Georgia, Alabama or Tennessee. Several thousand cranes now go only as far south as Tennessee, staying a few weeks before turning around and starting north in very early spring. A few have even spent the winter as far north as Ohio. Check out the best birding hotspots for sandhill crane migration.
Evening Grosbeak Migration Pattern
North America has several kinds of “winter finches,” as birders call northern species that irregularly wander far south in winter. One of the most striking is the evening grosbeak. Flocks of these big finches, colored like burnt gold, used to come sweeping south during some winters, swarming around feeders in the Northeast and Midwest. They would gobble up prodigious amounts of sunflower seed before they moved on, so backyard birders saw them as a mixed blessing.
In recent years, however, evening grosbeaks have become scarce visitors south of the boreal forest. In places that used to see hundreds, they may not show up at all. No one really knows why the grosbeaks aren’t coming south any more.
Stories like the evening grosbeaks’ make bird-watching endlessly fascinating. Even if we knew absolutely everything about bird migration patterns, the birds keep us on our toes by changing the rules, reminding us that we should never stop seeking, never stop learning and never stop caring.
Check out 5 grosbeaks backyard birders should know.
Changing Bird Migration Patterns
- Evening grosbeaks aren’t showing up in as many areas as they used to, but they are still common in Oregon and other parts of the West.
- Canada geese were once thought of as exclusively migratory, but now they remain in many states, including Kansas, year-round.
- Lesser black-backed gulls began showing up regularly in the New Jersey area in the 1970s, and they are now fairly common winter visitors.
- Sandhill cranes that used to migrate to Florida or the winter are now finding alternatives such as Tennessee.
- Rufous hummingbirds no longer just fly to the tropics for the winter. Now they will go south to areas like Alabama and Florida.
- Barn swallows were always known for flying to South America for winter but nesting in North America. However, now they are nesting down there, too.
Most birders are familiar with the sounds of a passing flock of sandhill cranes during migration. Many of us have seen them fly right over our house. Unfortunately, they are typically high up and the view isn’t great. There are spring birding hotspots, however, where you can find thousands of sandhill cranes staging before and during their migration to their breeding grounds in the spring. Here are some of the best hotspots for sandhill crane migration.
1. Sandhill Crane Migration Nebraska: Platte River
The Platte River is famous for incredible numbers of sandhill cranes. During five weeks each spring, about 500,000 sandhill cranes pass through the area! You may also see whooping cranes. For more information on this area, visit the Nebraska Game and Parks website. Learn more secrets about bird migration.
2. Sandhill Crane Migration Indiana: Goose Pond FWA
Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area in southern Indiana hosts a large numbers of sandhill cranes in migration each spring as well as a festival to celebrate them, Marsh Madness, during early March. Don’t worry if you miss the festival, plenty of cranes will still be around through the middle of March. Learn more about bird migration patterns and bird flyways.
3. Sandhill Crane Migration New Mexico: Bosque del Apache NWR
Bosque del Apache national wildlife refuge in New Mexico is well-known for its wintering population of sandhill cranes. Bird-watchers even host a great birding festival to celebrate them, Festival of the Cranes. In addition to thousands of sandhill cranes, you can also see amazing numbers of snow geese in the area. Learn how to start birding beyond the backyard.