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Scott's Oriole Life History


Open Woodlands

Scott’s Orioles inhabit arid foothills and mountains down to deserts, though they seldom nest in cactus-dominated low deserts, preferring instead higher slopes with abundant yucca, agave, pinyon pine, juniper, and live oak, usually between about 980 and 8,200 feet elevation. At lower elevations, they often nest in desert oases with taller trees, including palms and Joshua trees. They are very uncommon in chaparral habitats except where tall yuccas are found. Two yucca species widely used for nesting, soaptree yucca and Torrey yucca, can be very good indicators for the presence of Scott’s Orioles during the breeding season. Farther south, in southwestern Mexico, this species inhabits similar areas but also occurs in cactus-acacia-mesquite grasslands and both dry and humid pine and pine-oak woodlands. Scott’s Orioles nest in plants including yuccas, candlewood, elder, mango, orange, palo verde, and olive, as well as various species of mesquite, cottonwood, and sycamore.

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Scott’s Orioles eat mostly insects, fruit, and nectar. They pursue insects in virtually every possible setting: on the ground, in dead-leaf clusters, in dense foliage, in bark, at sapwells made by woodpeckers, and inside flowers. Their foraging is animated and thorough; they often suspend themselves upside-down and swing acrobatically into position to probe hiding places. They pick prey with the bill, usually swallowing it whole but sometimes removing the wings first. In central Mexico, they eat monarch butterflies during winter. Other prey items include ants, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, and butterflies (and larvae), many of which concentrate around flowering yucca. They sometimes eat small lizards as well. They eat dagger cactus fruit and cultivated fruits such as apricots, peaches, and figs. Like other orioles, they drink nectar from flowers, especially yucca, agave, and ocotillo flowers, and are attracted to artificial nectar at hummingbird feeders.

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Nest Placement


Females select the nest site, which may be in any sort of tree or tall plant in the landscape but is usually set lower than other oriole nests (typically 5–7 feet above the ground).

Nest Description

The female constructs a basketlike nest of yucca leaf fibers, cactus fibers, grass, and other materials, lining it with grasses, plant down, and plant fibers, occasionally with hair, paper, feathers, or string. Nests average about 4.2 inches across and 4 inches tall, with interior cup about 3.1 inches across and 2.7 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Egg Description:

Very pale blue with dark spots and streaks around the larger end.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless with tufts of pale gray down.

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Foliage Gleaner

Scott's Orioles appear to be monogamous, though pair bonds last just for the breeding season. Courtship displays are little known. Males pursue females in flight, then drop to the ground and walk away from a female with a waddling gait, and ultimately fly around, perching and singing, as if to indicate a nesting territory. Once paired, male and female sing back and forth during the early part of the nesting season. As the female begins to build a nest, the male follows closely, driving away rivals in flight or sometimes by physical attack. The size of a territory is variable, probably dependent upon the quality of the habitat (and especially the abundance of tall yuccas). Most territorial defense and threat displays are directed at other Scott’s Orioles that approach the female or the nest too closely. Because food in desert areas can be widely scattered, Scott’s Orioles travel far from the nest site when feeding young. The adults share incubation and chick-rearing duties, and after nestlings have fledged the family often forages as a group before migration in August. Pairs may raise 2 or even 3 broods in the brief nesting season in the United States. Young males sometimes nest in their first spring, before they’ve acquired adult male plumage.

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Low Concern

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Scott's Oriole populations declined by about 0.8% per year from 1968 to 2015. Although the range of the species has expanded northward over the past 100 years or so, some local populations have become extirpated. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 4.9 million and rates the species a 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Habitat destruction and degradation in breeding and wintering areas are probably the causes of population declines and represent the chief known conservation threats to the species.

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Flood, Nancy J. (2002). Scott's Oriole (Icterus parisorum), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

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., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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