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Feeding Orioles

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Oranges

Orange halves are one of orioles' favorite foods.

Kyle McDonald

Orioles are beautiful backyard birds, and by offering the right foods and feeding orioles an attractive menu, you can easily enjoy these brilliant orange, yellow and black birds all through the spring and summer.

What Orioles Eat

There are nine different types of orioles that regularly visit the United States and Canada, and while their ranges are vastly different, their feeding preferences are remarkably similar. All of these birds have a strong sweet tooth, and they prefer a range of foods that offer not only the proper nutrition, but also a touch of sugar. Popular oriole foods include:

  • Insects, mealworms and wasps
  • Nectar, either commercial or homemade
  • Flowers and flower pieces
  • Fruits, particularly oranges, apples, peaches, berries and bananas
  • Bread and other kitchen scraps
  • Suet mixed with bits of fruit, berries or peanut butter
  • Jelly, especially grape jelly and orange marmalade
  • Fresh, frozen or dried peas

Which bird species prefers which food can vary, but a mixture of these foods can attract orioles to your feeders easily. (See the Oriole Feeding Preferences table below for details on specific species.)

Oriole Feeders

Specialized oriole feeder designs are available that accommodate only the foods orioles prefer. Nectar feeders with large ports for large bills and perches for these songbirds are popular, as are small dishes for offering jelly or mealworms. Feeders with spikes to securely hold orange or apple halves are also popular oriole feeders, and many feeder designs incorporate all three: nectar reservoirs, jelly dishes and fruit spikes. Chunks and wedges of fruit can also be offered in platform or tray feeders, and jelly can be offered in any small dish.

Oriole Nectar

If you haven’t been feeding orioles but have noticed them in your yard, they may be attracted to any hummingbird feeders you have available. The classic hummingbird nectar recipe of four parts water to one part sugar is also attractive to orioles, but they will need nectar feeders with larger ports and perches. Orioles will also eagerly sip less sweet nectar, and making homemade oriole food with a 5:1 or 6:1 ratio of water to sugar is also suitable and can be more economical when trying to appease these birds’ appetites. Many commercial oriole nectars also use orange dye to help attract the birds, but just like with hummingbirds, the dye is largely unnecessary as many oriole nectar feeders have orange bases and ports that will attract the birds just as easily.

Feeding Orioles Jelly

Jelly is one of the most effective oriole foods you can offer. Smooth grape jelly is best, but the birds will also take orange marmalade or red cherry, strawberry or raspberry jellies. Offer jelly in small dishes, in a hollow orange rind or smeared on an orange half and the orioles won’t be able to leave it alone. Do not, however, offer sugar free jellies; it is the sugar that gives the birds the necessary energy and calories they need. Ideally, organic jellies are best.

More Tips for Feeding Orioles

To sate your hungry orioles…

  • Avoid spraying pesticides that will remove the insects these birds eat. Depending on the oriole species, insects may make up to 90 percent of their diet, particularly during nesting season when young birds require more protein for healthy growth and development.

  • For a ready made food source, plant shrubs and bushes that produce berries orioles will eat. Blackberries, elderberries, blueberries, serviceberries, raspberries, mulberries and huckleberries are all good choices.

  • Plant a variety of nectar producing flowers in your garden to give orioles another natural food source. Many orioles will be attracted to the same sweet flowers that attract hummingbirds, including petunias, honeysuckle and bleeding hearts.

  • Protect oriole feeders from ants by installing ant moats with each feeder, but do not use oil-based products smeared on poles or feeders to keep ants away. These products can mat a bird’s feathers and make flight and preening more difficult.

  • Do not offer fortified orange juice or orange flavored drinks or sodas in place of oriole nectar. These products do not have the necessary sucrose for the birds and contain many preservatives and other chemicals that can be harmful.

  • Keep nectar, fruit and jelly feeders fresh by replacing the contents every few days and washing the feeders when necessary. In the hottest weather, feeders may need to be cleaned daily.

Just as different people have different feeding preferences, so too do different birds, even of the same species. Try out a variety of foods and feeder types when feeding orioles, and you’ll soon have these beautiful birds dining regularly in your backyard.

Photo – Oranges © Kyle McDonald

Oriole Feeding Preferences

Oriole Species
*Rare at feeders
Foods Preferred
Altamira* Insects, Fruit, Berries
Audubon's* Insects, Fruit, Nectar
Baltimore Insects, Berries, Fruit, Nectar, Peanut Butter, Suet
Bullock's Insects, Berries, Fruit, Suet, Nectar
Hooded Insects, Nectar, Bread Scraps, Fruit
Orchard Insects, Berries, Flowers, Nectar, Fruit
Scott's Insects, Fruit, Nectar
Spot-Breasted* Insects, Fruit, Berries, Nectar
Streak-Backed* Insects, Grubs, Seeds, Flowers, Nectar
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