Echoing over the treetops near parks and homes, you often hear the whistling song of the Baltimore oriole in the spring. The Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula) is part of the Passeriformes order and the Icteridae family. You can find these birds in open woodlands across western North America.
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If you want to spot the Baltimore oriole, you need to look up high. You will find these birds fluttering through the upper foliage or perching at the top of tall trees. Baltimore orioles are often found in leafy deciduous trees, not deep forests. Their favorite spots are forest edges, orchards, riverbanks, and open woodlands. Backyards and parks make the ideal nesting spot for these birds in urban areas.
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You might hear noisy nestlings in the upper parts of taller trees. Females weave their hanging nests from the dense trees. Their distinct call is like no other. Some describe the calls as chattering. These birds are often heard before you can spot them. They feed high in the trees, only coming down to search for fruits, flowers, or insects. In some instances, you may see them sipping from hummingbird feeders.
Baltimore orioles are known to enjoy ripe, such as oranges. Some birders cut them in half, hang them off the tree, and wait for the orioles to arrive. Special oriole feeders are designed to be filled with sugar water supplements that include flower nectar. Fruit trees are another hangout of the Baltimore orioles. These birds love nectar-bearing flowers and bright fruits like crabapples, trumpet vines, and raspberries.
Unlike other birds, Baltimore orioles prefer overly ripe, dark-colored fruits. They will seek the darkest purple grapes or reddest cherries. Baltimore orioles use their beaks to feed in a style called "gaping." They will use their closed bills to stab the fruit, opening their mouth to drink with their tongues.
The Baltimore orioles are more diminutive and slender than an American Robin. These medium-sized songbirds have long legs and thick necks. If you look at their long, stout, pointed bills, those are the hallmarks of the blackbird family designations. The Baltimore orioles have a similar size as a Red-Winged blackbird, but they are slightly slimmer.
For both sexes, the measurement include:
Mature males have a flame-orange and black color, with a solid-black head. They have orange outer tail feathers with an orange rump. There is a single white bar on the entire black wing.
Females and young males feature a yellowish-orange on the breast with gray on the back and head. The tail is usually a yellow color. However, females have highly variable plumage running from yellow to brown. They will have two bold white bars on the wings. Females will become a deeper orange after every molt. In some cases, the older females will have bright orange plumage just like a mature male.
Young males will have a similar appearance as female Baltimore orioles. They do not molt into the bright-orange plumage until they reach the fall of their second year. Even without the bright feathers, some young males succeed in attracting a female and raising her young.
The Baltimore orioles' range overlaps with the Bullock's oriole, a close relative. These two species will breed in central North America, especially Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nebraska, and Kansas, creating a hybrid offspring. These birds have a brighter orange color than Bullock's, but it is duller than a normal Baltimore. In many cases, these hybrid species will confuse the average birdwatcher.
Orioles in North America were named after birds in the Old World, but these birds are not similar. The Old World orioles are part of the Oriolidae family, while American orioles are classified with meadowlarks and blackbirds. Both New and Old World orioles have brightly colored plumage (orange to red) and long tails and bills. The Baltimore orioles received their name from their distinctive black and orange plumage, which is the same color as the heraldic crest of the Baltimore family. That same family gave their name to the city in Maryland.
Now that you know more about the Baltimore oriole, you can keep your eyes on the skies. You might hear those distinctive chips or a flash of their orange bellies when you are outside.
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