Orchard Oriole Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsLook 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.Back to top

Food

Food InsectsOrchard 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.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeOrchard 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.

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.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:4-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.8-0.9 in (1.9-2.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.6 in (1.4-1.5 cm)
Incubation Period:12-14 days
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.
Back to top

Behavior

Behavior Foliage GleanerOrchard 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.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernOrchard Orioles are fairly common but populations have been slowly declining. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates a drop of almost 1% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 35%. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 10 million with 88% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 34% in Mexico, and 1% breeding in Canada. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Orchard Oriole is not on the 2014 State of the Birds 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. Back to top

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.

Back to top

Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

Scharf, William C. and Josef Kren. 2010. Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

Back to top