All About Bullock's Orioles and How to Attract Them to Your Yard
A Brand New Visitor
I was sitting in the backyard watching for hummingbirds when suddenly this bright orange, black and white bird flew to the feeder, which was about 10 feet from where I was sitting. Because I had never seen one of these beauties in the backyard, I started calling out to Mike to grab his camera. I'm pretty sure the neighbors were wondering what the heck was causing my loud screams, but I knew that Mike was on the opposite end of our house and wouldn't hear me if I didn't yell pretty loudly. I was afraid to move for fear of scaring the bird off, so I yelled until Mike finally showed up at the patio door with his camera.
He slowly walked over to one of the chairs in our backyard and sat down and began photographing this stunning creature and it became obvious pretty soon that I could have gotten up and walked all over the yard and he still wouldn't have moved. He stayed at the hummingbird feeder for a long time, then flew over to one of our nearby trees and perched there for a while. Occasionally, he would fly back over to the hummingbird feeder for a drink, then he would go back to the tree. He stayed for a long time and paid no attention to us whatsoever. What a vision he was.
We knew he was some type of oriole, but didn't know exactly which species he was, so we began scouring our reference books and finally found his picture. Our new visitor was a Bullock's oriole.
What We Learned About Our New Friend
Any time we see a new bird, especially in our own backyard, we are hungry for all of the information we can find about it and we have plenty of reference books, so this is what we learned about the Bullock's oriole:
- They don't eat from seed feeders, but as they complete their spring migration they look for sugary foods (such as our hummingbird sugar water).
- There are ways to attract them to your yard other than having hummingbird feeders. During breeding season, they love a mixture of water and grape jelly (1:1 mixture), which can be blended into a syrup-like nectar and set outside in a small, shallow container.
- If there is a birding store in your area, they probably sell oriole feeders specifically designed to attract them with sugar water.
- If you have oranges, cut one in half and place it (fruit side up) in a shallow container of water. They apparently love the fruit and the water will keep the ants off of it. (I did this and it works very well. I found one dead ant in the water after a whole day, so they apparently don't want to take the chance to drown and choose to stay away completely). You need to replace the orange half daily to keep it from drying out or growing mold, which could harm the birds.
- If you are trying to attract them to your yard, you need to put out food before they migrate to your area. If the food is not out when they first canvas your yard, they will keep on looking elsewhere. When they have begun nesting, they transition for the sugary sweet treat of your yard to mealworms.
Female and Male Bullock's OriolesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Nest Built by Female and Male
When it comes to constructing a nest, the female Bullock's oriole usually weaves it but is often assisted by the male. One of the partners will work on the inside of the nest while the other gathers nesting material and works the outside of the nest. This is not a fast undertaking and it can take them up to a few weeks to complete the nest, the location of which is usually high in an isolated tree or at the edge of a woodland area.
The finished nest is shaped like a gourd and is woven from various fibers, including hair, string, grass or wool. The lining inside is filled with softer materials like feathers or the cotton-like material found on cottonwood or willow trees.
The depth of the nest will vary, although the average depth is about four inches. Some, however, have been constructed that are over a foot deep. The opening of the Bullock's oriole nest is smaller than the opening of the nest built by a Baltimore oriole, but overall the Bullock's nests are deeper and wider.
The female lays from three to seven eggs, which are splotched with brownish purple lines. The egg itself is a pale blue color or a very light grey (almost white).
A Unique Nest Suspended From Branches
Other Things They Eat
When baby Bullock's orioles are hatchlings, they are completely helpless with long, sparse white down. They are fed crickets, earwigs, ants, crane flies and other stick insects, but the adult orioles eat insects and other arthropods, as well as the nectar and sugary treats discussed above. The insects come from a variety of places, including spider webs, and the fruit is taken directly from trees and shrubs.
A method called gaping is used by these orioles to extract the juice from fruit (and often from tough-skinned caterpillars). They thrust their closed bills through the skin and into the flesh (fruit or animal). Once their bill is inside, they open it up and gather up the juices using their tongues. Occasionally, they skin caterpillars by hitting them repeatedly on a branch.
These intelligent birds, before eating a honeybee, will extract and drop the bee's stinger. They also like grasshoppers, crickets, ants, small spiders, beetles, stink bugs and leafhoppers. Some of the fruit they love includes cherries, blackberries, raspberries, and figs.
Feeder Designed for Orioles
- Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.
- The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
- Book of North American Birds, Reader's Digest
- http://allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bullocks_Oriole/lifehistory# (Retrieved from website 5/6/2018)
© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney