The smallest oriole in North America, the orchard oriole can often be mistaken for a warbler. Active and approachable, these colorful orioles have a stunning song and are easily attracted to backyard feeders in the appropriate habitat.
- Bill: Long, very slightly decurved, sharply pointed, black above with a blue-gray lower mandible
- Size: 6.5-7.25 inches long with 9-10-inch wingspan, heavy build
- Colors: Black, dark orange, white, yellow, olive-gray, olive-green, gray
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a solid black hood and back. Underparts are dark brick orange, and one thick orange wing bar is present near the shoulder. The tail is black with narrow white tips, and a very thin white wing bar on the black wings can be hard to see. Primary feathers also show white edging. Females have a yellow head and underparts, and the back is olive-gray or olive-green. Wings are dark gray with two white wing bars, and the tail is a dark yellow. Juveniles resemble females, but first year males develop a black throat on their bright yellow plumage.
Insects, berries, fruit, nectar, flowers, spiders (See: Insectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These orioles prefer open or scrubby woodland habitat with abundant tall deciduous shade trees. They are often found in forest edges, riparian areas, marshes, parks and appropriately enough, orchards. Their summer range includes most of the eastern United States as far west as Texas, Oklahoma and eastern parts of Colorado and Montana, though they are missing from southern Florida as well as Maine and northern parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. The breeding range also extends slightly into southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
These neotropical migrants are early migrating birds and may start heading south as early as mid-July. In winter, they are found in southwestern Mexico and Central America, extending into South America in parts of Colombia and Venezuela. Vagrant sightings are regularly noted much further west of the orchard oriole's expected range during migration periods.
These birds have a loud, rich song that varies greatly in length, number of syllables and pitch changes. The song includes a variety of warbling notes and whistles, and the speed of the song can vary as well. Calls include a soft "chuk" note and a longer, drawn out "jeeet" raspy note.
These orioles are relatively solitary or are found in pairs during the breeding season. After the nesting season ends, they often congregate in small family groups, including during migration. They can be relatively tame and approachable, allowing birders to come quite near before flying away. Orchard orioles forage agilely in middle or upper levels of trees, and while feeding, they often flick their tails sideways as if agitated.
These are monogamous birds that bond through courtship displays that include bowing, feeding, begging and flight displays. The female partner builds an intricate hanging nest pouch of woven grasses, lined with finer grasses and plant down. The nests are located 5-50 feet above the ground, often hidden behind leaves for additional camouflage.
Only one brood of eggs is laid each year. The eggs are oval-shaped and light blue or blue-gray in color, with gray, purple or brown splotches. There are typically 3-7 eggs per brood.
The female parent incubates the eggs for 12-14 days, but both parents care for and feed the altricial chicks for an additional 11-14 days. Young birds may remain with their parents in a family group for several weeks continuing to learn how to forage appropriately.
Attracting Orchard Orioles:
These orioles will readily visit bird-friendly backyards that have several large shade trees for appropriate shelter. Offering oranges, nectar and jelly will provide supplemental food to attract these birds, and minimizing insecticide use will also preserve a critical protein source for these birds.
Orchard orioles are not threatened or endangered, though some local western populations are showing declines, as well as populations in the northeast where orchards have also declined. These birds are relatively common hosts to brown-headed cowbird eggs, and the cowbird chicks can hamper the survival of the oriole hatchlings. As neotropical migrants, these birds also face habitat losses in their winter range that can impact their overall survival. International cooperation is essential to preserve habitat and ensure good territory year-round for orchard orioles.
- Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
- Scott's Oriole (Icterus parisorum)
- Audubon's Oriole (Icterus graduacauda)
- Black-Headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
- Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
- Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus)
- American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)