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Hooded Oriole

Icterus cucullatus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Black and brilliant yellow to flame orange colors flash across the sky when male Hooded Orioles dash through open woodlands and yards of the southwestern United States. Following close behind are the pale yellow females. Otherwise known as the palm-leaf oriole, these orioles build hanging nests, "sewing" them onto the undersides of palm leaves. They often stay hidden while foraging, but their large and slender size and nearly constant chatter usually give them away. Hooded Orioles also use hummingbird feeders, awkwardly bending or hanging upside down to drink.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
7.1–7.9 in
18–20 cm
Weight
0.8 oz
24 g
Relative Size
Larger than a House Finch, smaller than a Western Kingbird.
Other Names
  • Oriole masqué (French)
  • Bolsero cuculado, Bolsero encapuchado, Calandria zapotera, Jaranjero (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Hooded Oriole song is a chattering mix of notes and cries that sometimes includes a few notes from their neighbors. In Arizona, they mimic Gila Woodpeckers and Ash-throated Flycatchers.
  • Hooded Orioles in California earned the nickname “palm-leaf oriole” because of their tendency to build nests in palm trees. When the nest is suspended from palm leaves, the female pokes holes in the leaf from below and pushes the fibers through, effectively sewing the nest to the leaf.
  • A few Hooded Orioles in southern California and Arizona hang around neighborhoods all winter long, taking advantage of free food at hummingbird feeders instead of migrating south.
  • Orioles are members of the blackbird family (Icteridae), along with meadowlarks and cowbirds. Birds in this family all have super strong, long, and pointed bills. They use these bills to get at food other birds can’t reach, such as prying apart thick patches of grass, opening up flowers, enlarging holes in tree bark, and digging into ripe fruits for their juice.
  • Hooded Orioles expanded their range northward after people planted more ornamental palm trees around their homes and suburban areas. By 2017, Hooded Orioles were using parks and suburban yards as far north as Arcata, California.
  • Don't be fooled by color, Hooded Orioles in Texas and eastern Mexico are flame orange, but those in the southwestern United States and western Mexico are bright yellow.
  • The oldest recorded Hooded Oriole was a male, and at least 6 years old when he was found in California in 1972, the same state where he had been banded in 1967.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Hooded Orioles live in open, dry areas in the Southwest with scattered trees including cottonwoods, willows, sycamores, and especially palm trees. They occur farther north than they did in the past as residential and commercial developments began planting more and more palm trees. During the nonbreeding season in Mexico, they also use open areas with scattered trees.

Food


Insects

Hooded Orioles search the undersides of leaves for spiders and insects such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers, larvae, and caterpillars. They also eat fruit and take nectar from flowering plants and hummingbird feeders.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–7 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.8–1 in
2–2.5 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.4–1.7 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
14 days
Egg Description
Whitish to pale blue with dark blotches on the wider end.
Condition at Hatching
Naked with bits of downy feathers on the head and back.
Nest Description

Like other orioles, females weave grass and plant fibers together to form a hanging basket. Female Hooded Orioles stitch the nest to the underside of leaves. Females build these elaborate basket nests in 3 to 6 days. Nests are about 4 inches tall.

Nest Placement

Tree

The female stiches a hanging nest to the undersides of palm, sycamore, or eucalyptus leaves about 20 feet above the ground.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Hooded Orioles are methodical and acrobatic foragers that hang, often upside down, from leaves and branches in search of food. They tend to forage at low to middle levels in trees and shrubs. When they fly between trees their flight is strong and quick. Unlike other orioles, they tend to sing partially hidden inside trees and shrubs. Sometimes they flick their tail upward while chattering almost incessantly. Males point their bills to the sky and hold a sleek posture while chattering during territorial disputes with other males. During courtship, males flutter their wings as they move from branch to branch, bowing to the female.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Hooded Oriole populations remained stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 700,000, with 51% breeding in the U.S., and 98% spending at least part of the year in Mexico. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Hooded Oriole is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. In some areas, especially where ornamental palms have increased, Hooded Orioles are expanding and moving farther north. But in the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, populations are declining. The main threat to populations in the lower Rio Grande Valley is cowbird nest parasitism. Brown-headed and Bronzed Cowbirds parasitize Hooded Orioles by laying their eggs in an oriole’s nest. The new parents unwittingly care for cowbird young and Hooded Oriole young rarely survive.

Credits

  • Pleasants, B.Y. and D. J. Albano. 2001. Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus), The Birds of North America (P.G. Rodewald, Ed.). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.
  • Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York.
  • Elphick, C, J. B. Dunning, Jr., D. A. Sibley, eds. 2001. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York.
  • Jaramillo, A., and P. Burke. 1999. New World Blackbirds: The Icterids. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  • Karlson, K.T., and D. Rosselet. 2015. Birding by Impression: A Different Approach to Knowing and Identifying Birds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, New York.
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2016. The State of North America’s Birds 2016. Environment and Climate Change Canada: Ottawa, Ontario.
  • Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
  • Sauer, J.R., J.E. Hines, J.E. Fallon, K.L. Pardieck, D.J. Ziolkowski, Jr., and W.A. Link. 2016. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015, Version 01.30.2015. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
  • USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2016. Longevity records of North American Birds.

Range Map Help

Hooded Oriole Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Short-distance migrant.

Backyard Tips

Try attracting Hooded Orioles to your yard with oranges, sugar water, or jelly. Slice oranges in half and secure them to a post or other platform. Or hang up an extra hummingbird feeder with slightly larger holes to allow these larger birds to access the sugar water. Use the same proportions you would for hummingbirds: one part table sugar dissolved in four parts water. Be sure to dispose of any fruit that becomes moldy because some molds create toxins that are harmful to birds.

Find This Bird

Despite their bright colors, Hooded Orioles tend to be inconspicuous and sometimes remain hidden even while singing. They are often deliberate and slow foragers, so if you see a larger songbird moving slowly in a tree, don’t assume it’s just an American Robin—it could be a Hooded Oriole. One way to find them is to look for a desert oasis with tall cottonwoods or sycamores, or a suburban neighborhood with palm trees. In these areas, listen for their jumbling songs and chattering calls or watch the sky to catch them flying between trees. Fruit feeders and hummingbird feeders are also good places to look for them.

Get Involved

Report which birds visit your feeders at Project FeederWatch.

You Might Also Like

Migration Destinations: Western Mexico’s Thorn Forests, Living Bird, Winter 2010.

All About Birds blog, Here’s What to Feed Your Summer Bird Feeder Visitors, July 11, 2014.

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