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Orchard Oriole

Icterus spurius ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Orchard Oriole swaps the typical flame-orange of other orioles for a deep, burnished russet. Hopping among riverine shrubs or scattered trees, male Orchard Orioles sing a whistled, chattering song to attract yellow-green females. The smallest of North America’s orioles, it gleans insects from foliage and builds hanging, pouchlike nests during its brief breeding season, and then heads back to Central America for the rest of the year. Orchard Orioles also feed on fruit and nectar in orchards, gardens, and elsewhere.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.9–7.1 in
15–18 cm
Wingspan
9.8 in
25 cm
Weight
0.6–1 oz
16–28 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Yellow Warbler; smaller than a Baltimore Oriole.
Other Names
  • Oriole des vergers (French)
  • Bolsero castaño, Calandria café, Pararo de huertos, Turpial de huertos (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • On their favorite habitats—along river edges, for example—Orchard Orioles nest in groups, often with multiple nests in a single tree. On less suitable habitats, however, they tend to be solitary.
  • Orchard Orioles migrate north late in the spring and head southward early, with some returning to their wintering grounds as early as mid-July. Because of the short breeding season, researchers have trouble distinguishing between breeding orioles and migrating ones in any given location.
  • The Orchard Oriole eats nectar and pollen from flowers, especially during the winter. It is a pollinator for some tropical plant species: as it feeds, its head gets dusted with pollen, which then gets transferred from flower to flower. Sometimes, though, the oriole pierces the flower’s base to suck out the nectar—getting the reward without rendering a service to the plant.
  • Orchard Orioles are relatively easygoing toward each other or other bird species, nesting in close quarters with Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles, Eastern Kingbirds, Western Kingbirds, American Robins, and Chipping Sparrows. The aggressive kingbirds may be useful neighbors because they ward off predators and cowbirds (which lay their eggs in the nests of other birds).
  • The oldest Orchard Oriole on record was at least 11 years old when it was captured and released by a Maryland bird bander in 2012.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Look for Orchard Orioles in open woodlands along river edges, as well as along marsh edges, lakeshores, open shrublands, and farms. In open habitats they nest in scattered trees, including large trees planted for shade. Orchard Orioles winter in thickets, tropical forest edges, plantations, shady pastures, and lightly wooded areas—at a range of elevations up to a mile or more above sea level.

Food


Insects

Orchard Orioles eat mostly insects and other arthropods, along with some fruit and nectar. They glean prey from the foliage, including parasitic wasps, ants, bugs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, mayflies, and spiders. They drink nectar from flowers (and hummingbird feeders). Sometimes they dip their head into the flower opening, picking up pollen along the way; other times they take a more direct route, piercing flowers such as trumpet creepers and black locust at their bases and bypassing the pollen. Their diet shifts to mostly fruit just before fall migration. Migrating flocks forage on ripe mulberries, chokecherries, and other berries. On their Central American wintering grounds they feed on fruits, nectar, and pollen.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
4–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.7–0.9 in
1.9–2.3 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.6 in
1.4–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
14 days
Egg Description
Light blue or gray, with dark markings of purple, brown, black, or gray.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless and covered with pale gray to tan down.
Nest Description

The female does most of the nest building, completing the project in about 6 days. Suspended from a forked twig, the nest is woven from long blades of green grass that turn yellow as they dry, and usually lined with fine grasses, plant down, catkins, cotton, animal wool, bits of yarn, and feathers. It measures about 4 inches across and 3 inches deep on the outside, with an inner cup measuring 2.5 inches across and 2 inches deep. The eggs are usually visible through the loosely woven nest bottom.

Nest Placement

Tree

Orchard Orioles build nests in a variety of tree species, including maple, ash, cottonwood, willow, elm, white pine, Norway spruce, oak, magnolia, and pecan. The nests are usually attached to forked twigs or branches away from the main trunk, at varying heights from the ground.

Orchard Oriole Nest Image 1
© 2004 Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Orchard Orioles are monogamous within each breeding season, but they find a new mate each year. They arrive on breeding grounds in late spring and usually raise a single brood before departing in mid to late summer. Both sexes give breeding displays that include bows, seesawing motions, and begging. In good habitats they are semicolonial, with multiple pairs building their nests in one tree; elsewhere they are more solitary. They are relatively unterritorial, but adult males may defend small foraging territories by chasing off females and immature males. Orchard Orioles show little aggression toward other birds; they may nest in the same tree as Baltimore and Bullock’s Orioles, and in close quarters with other birds such as Eastern and Western Kingbirds, American Robins, and Chipping Sparrows. On the wintering grounds they forage in groups and form large overnight roosts that may include other species.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Orchard Orioles are fairly common but their populations have been slowly declining by about 1 percent per year since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 10 million with 88 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 34 Percent in Mexico, and 1 percent breeding in Canada. They rate a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Declines in the southeastern and central U.S. have been partially offset by increases in the prairies, the Northeast, and at the western edges of their range. Orchard Orioles are heavily parasitized by cowbirds in Louisiana and the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and have declined in these regions during the twentieth century. Habitat loss could become a problem for Orchard Orioles, particularly in areas along rivers. Oriole populations tend to decline in response to grazing, which destroys shrub vegetation, increases cowbird parasitism, and changes the water flow of riverside habitats

Credits

Range Map Help

Orchard Oriole Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Long-distance migrant. Orchard Orioles fly from eastern North America to wintering grounds in Mexico through northern South America. They spend less time on breeding grounds than other orioles, arriving by late May and departing as early as mid-July.

Backyard Tips

Orchard Orioles don’t visit seed feeders, but they may drink nectar from hummingbird feeders or visit slices of oranges or offerings of fruit jelly (although provide small amounts at a time so it doesn’t get too messy). They are also insectivores, so a shrubby backyard may provide enough insects and spiders to attract them. During fall migration they are attracted to fruits such as mulberries and chokecherries.

Find This Bird

Orchard Orioles can be inconspicuous despite being fairly common. Look for them in the tops of scattered trees or in open woods. Listen for their songs, which are sweet whistles that may at first sound like other familiar birds such as robins or grosbeaks. Listen for harsh churrs and chatters interspersed with the sweet notes to help distinguish this species. And be sure to look for them during the height of summer, as these visitors tend to leave their breeding grounds in late summer, earlier than many other migrants.

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