Named for the colorful coat of arms carried by Lord Baltimore in the 17th century, the Baltimore oriole is a brilliantly colored songbird welcome in many backyards. Once combined with its western counterpart as a single species, the northern oriole, the Baltimore oriole today is recognized as a distinct species and is the state bird of Maryland.
- Bill: Straight, sharply pointed, blue-gray
- Size: 7.5-8.5 inches long with 12-inch wingspan
- Colors: Black, orange, yellow, white, olive
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a black hood, back and throat over a bold yellow-orange body and rump. The yellow-orange color extends onto the shoulder in a thick wedge over black wings. Wings have a white bar and white feather edging. The black tail has yellow or orange underneath. Instead of black, females show olive coloration and more mottling. Females are more likely to have lighter yellow coloration where the males show orange, and females have two white wing bars.
Habitat and Migration:
Baltimore orioles are popular spring and summer birds in open deciduous forests and riparian areas in the eastern United States as well as in suburban parks and backyards. Populations extend as far west as the Great Plains and eastern Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as the southern half of eastern Canadian provinces. In the fall and winter, Baltimore orioles migrate to Central and South America, with limited populations wintering in Florida, along the edge of the southeastern United States and along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Baltimore orioles have a distinctive two-pitch undulating slow warble, though the speed of the song may change during one call. Other calls include high chips and chirps as well as a rapid dry rattle.
These orioles can be very shy, solitary birds for most of the year, though after the nesting season they are likely to appear in pairs or small mixed flocks, particularly while foraging in the fall and winter. They forage in shrubs, bushes and trees, hunting for insects or picking through flowers. Where the Baltimore oriole’s range overlaps with the Bullock’s oriole, interbreeding and hybridization is common.
Baltimore orioles are monogamous birds that pair together after elaborate courtship rituals that include tail and wing spread displays and bowing to show off plumage colors. A mated pair will produce one brood of 3-5 eggs per year, and the female oriole will incubate the eggs for 12-14 days. Both parents feed the altricial young for an additional 12-14 days until the young birds can leave the nest.
Attracting Baltimore Orioles:
Though shy, Baltimore orioles will readily come to backyards that provide their favorite foods, including grape jelly, orange halves, nectar and suet. Birders should avoid spraying pesticides that can eliminate insects as a food source, and hanging hair or string sections can help attract orioles to nest nearby. (See How to Attract Orioles for more information.)
- Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii)
- Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)
- Audubon’s Oriole (Icterus graduacauda)
- Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum)
Photo – Baltimore Oriole – Male © Wyld Art Photography