By Bob Confer
The Baltimore oriole is one of the most beautiful birds that you’ll find during the spring and summer in Allegany County. They are unmistakable in appearance, their fire orange bodies contrasting with their black heads and wings. They are equally attractive in voice, with a loud, far-carrying whistled tune that it sends from the treetops. Their homes are just as interesting, too, a sack-like nest that looks like a pendulum as it hangs from branches, a real marvel of avian engineering.
They tend to be difficult birds to see, not because they are rare (they are pretty common) or because they are birds of forests (they are equally at home in parks and city lawns with large, old trees). It’s because they frequent the treetops in search of insects, leaving the ground-level insects to robins, catbirds and the like.
But, there is a way to bring them closer to the ground and closer to view: Feeding them.
Despite being voracious insect eaters, they love fruits too. When our local wild berry crops hit its peak in mid-summer, up to 20% of an oriole’s diet might be fleshy fruits and berries.
You can take advantage of that hunger for fruits and build a series of feeding stations in your yard. My parents maintain some in their yard and they are typically visited by a half dozen of the fiery males and just as many of the more subdued, almost yellowish females.
The orioles have been in town for two or three weeks now and will be with us through the summer, so it’s not too late to get started.
Here are some attractants that have proven successful for my parents:
Put out some fruits
Orioles will consume fleshy fruits like oranges. All you have to do is split the orange in half and firmly attach it (with a nail or post) to a feeding platform. If the orange is not mounted to something, the orioles will have a hard time tearing apart the juicy contents and they will quickly lose interest. Orioles will consume the fruits from either a horizontal feeding platform or a vertical set-up as shown in the accompanying photograph. Other birders have found similar success with apples and pears.
Feed them like you would a hummingbird
When my parents first had orioles visit their feeding stations, the birds used nectar feeders that were intended for hummingbirds. That’s a plus, because you can attract two beautiful species of birds with just one feeder. You have to make sure, though, that the feeder has a large enough perch for the orioles or they won’t go to it. Many hummingbird feeders have very small perches or none at all – many hummingbird lovers prefer to see those little dynamos hovering while feeding.
There are a variety of hummingbird sugar waters and nectars on the market that hummers and orioles will eat. My mom suggests you save money and make your own. It’s easy. Boil a concoction that’s two-and-a-half cups water to one cup sugar (which is even sweeter than many hummingbird drinks on the market). Let it cool before putting it in your plastic feeder.
Give them jelly
My parents have had the most luck with grape jelly. There are a couple of jelly feeder styles available on the market…one is small dispenser onto which you screw a small can of jelly upside down, the other is like that shown in the photo (a basin with a rain cover). The orioles in my parents’ yard love the jelly so much that they consume a whole jar of it every four days. Once again, my mom suggests that you save your money: There are a wide variety of pricy “bird jellies” on the market; don’t buy that. Instead, go to your local grocer or dollar store and get run-of-the-mill grape jelly.
If you want to see Baltimore orioles up close and personal this summer, follow these time-tested approaches to attracting them to your yard. You surely won’t be disappointed by your newfound feathered friends.