Exploring the Baltimore Oriole Nesting, Feeding Habits (Northern)

In early Spring when the Baltimore Oriole bird makes its first appearance, we receive emails asking if we can identify a bird that is black and also has "bright orange feathers". A bird you won't forget once you've seen one.

You know spring has sprung when you see and hear this bird at the top of trees making its rivals know he's claiming territory.

The Baltimore Oriole bird, once called Northern Oriole, makes its way from Mexico and South America its wintering grounds, to the US and Canada to begin its mating, nesting, and feeding habits.

Male Northern Baltimore Oriole on Branch

Male Baltimore Oriole

What Does the Baltimore Oriole Call/Song Sound Like?

The song of the Baltimore Oriole is a beautiful melodic sound that can be described as a series of flute-like notes.

The exact song of an oriole can vary slightly between individuals, but it typically consists of a series of musical phrases, often with descending notes or slurred phrases.

The song is used by male orioles to establish territories and attract mates.

Description of Male Baltimore Oriole

Northern Orioles measure 7 - 8 1/2 inches long. The male bird is black with orange underparts, rump, shoulders, and sides of the tail. His wings have 2 white wing bars.

What do Female Baltimore Orioles Look Like?

The female Baltimore Oriole looks quite different than the male. She is olive above, and yellowish below with 2 white wing bars. (Image Below) This particular Oriole bird is found east of the Rockies.

Its western counterpart; Bullock's Oriole, is similar in appearance.

The male has an orange face, black eye-line, and a large white wing patch.

The female Bullock has a yellowish head and breast and a whitish belly.

While the major league team adopted this bird's name and colors, the bird itself, got its name from George Calvert, Lord Baltimore.

A 17th-century nobleman whose coat of arms used the same colors.

Because the two birds interbreed in the Central Plains and have similar types of habits, the American Ornithologists Union renamed both birds and called them The Northern Oriole.

Although research on the relationship between these two birds is ongoing.

Oriole Mating Habits

The breeding season begins in late April to early May. The males arrive 2 or 3 days before the females and begin claiming their territories.

You're likely to hear them singing from treetops in their effort to attract a mate. Their singing is almost constant until they mate with a female.

Unlike the Northern Mockingbird though, these birds do not sing at night.

Generally, any singing late in the season is from unmated or immature birds.

Once the birds have found a mate they defend their territory and begin nesting.

Do Orioles Mate For Life?

Considered sesonally monogamous with extra-pair copulation common, the Baltimore Oriole does not mate for life.

Oriole Nesting Habits - Where They Nest

The female selects a site for the nest, usually in a deciduous tree, often a tall one. Orioles prefer trees such as Elm, Cottonwood, or Maples to build their nest.

The nest is typically located at the end of a branch, which provides some protection against predators.

The female gathers materials for the nest, which can include plant, animal, and even human-made materials.

This often includes grass, bark, hair, and twine. She may also use spider silk as a binding agent.

How Orioles Build Their Nest

The female weaves the nest, creating a small cup shape. She starts by weaving a loop around a twig.

Then she weaves additional material, including long grasses and strips of bark, in and out of the loop. The weaving process can take as long as a week.

Once the basic structure is complete, the female lines the inside of the nest with soft materials, such as plant down, fur, or feathers, to provide a comfortable and warm environment for the eggs and chicks.

The outside of the nest is often decorated with gray and white lichen, which helps to camouflage it against the tree.

Nest can be anywhere from 6 to 90 feet above the ground.

female Northern Oriole Eating Orange

Female Baltimore Oriole

While it's quite common for them to return each year to the same territory, they will not use the same nest.

They often take parts of the old nest to build a new one, so you may see them at the old nest site.

Bird watchers will find the best viewing of the Baltimore Oriole's nest when the leaves are off the trees. You'll see them at the end of branches high in shade trees.

The preferred habitat of Orioles is in open woodlands of deciduous trees near parks, gardens, and suburban settings.

In this tightly woven hanging nest, the female lays 3 to 6 pale blue with dark marks eggs.

Incubation of the eggs is done by the female with the male always close by and watching.

Baltimore Oriole Nesting Stats
Baltimore Oriole
Eggs 3 - 6
Incubation 12 - 14 days
Nestling Phase 12 - 14 days
Broods 1 per season

Incubation will last 12 to 14 days and the young birds will leave the nest in 12 to 14 days after hatching.

Northern Orioles nest only once each season and do not use birdhouses.

Cowbirds have a difficult time laying eggs in the Oriole's nest but still do.

Orioles can tell the difference between their eggs and Cowbird's eggs. Either the Oriole will eat the Cowbird's eggs, or eject them from the nest.

Feeding Habits - What Do Baltimore Orioles Eat?

Oriole Nest

The main diet of the Baltimore Oriole consists of insects, fruits, and flower nectar.

At the feeding station orange halves or grape jelly placed in a shallow bowl will draw them in.

Another option is by providing a sugar-water mixture. 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. No need to boil the sugar-water mixture. Replace often during hot weather.

What are the Predators of Oriole Birds?

Of the avian type, predators of the Northern Oriole include Screech Owls, Common Grackles, Crows, and Blue jays. Others are Red squirrels, Gray Squirrels, and Fox Squirrels.

Where Did My Orioles Go?

Often we're asked "What happened to our Oriole birds"? "they were here every day eating our oranges and grape jelly and now they're gone".

The most common cause for their sudden disappearance from feeders is that while they are nesting and feeding young, the diet changes to add protein so that the young birds grow healthy.

This means they are hunting insects instead of visiting your feeders.

They may have started migrating: see next heading.

Don't worry, sometimes the adults will bring their young to the feeders once they've left the nest. So be prepared for a return after a 4-week absence.

You might want to have a summer bird feeding station to attract dozens of species of birds during the nesting season.

When Do Orioles Migrate?

Spring migration begins in April when Male Baltimore Orioles begin to arrive at their breeding grounds roughly East of the Rockies.

The winter migration to the South can begin as early as July, which is much earlier than most species.

Still, you may see some Orioles well into September or a little later in their Southern range.

See Also: Orchard Oriole Habits.

Attract Orioles With This Fruit Feeder
Fruit Feeder
oriole nectar feeder
Oriole Nectar Feeder
copper top oriole feeder
Covered Feeders
oriole suet
Suet For Orioles