Attracting Orioles

Cover Photo: Baltimore Orioles love oranges! Ohio, Magee Marsh May 2010 from the Surfbirds galleries © Glyn Sellors

Most of us start watching birds close to home, at a window or in our backyard. One more way to see more birds is to make your home and backyard more attractive to them. The key is to provide the basic necessities for birds: food, water, and shelter.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole by Glynn Sellors from Surfbirds Galleries. Orioles LOVE oranges! This male Baltimore Oriole shows the characteristic black head and orange breast. Females lack the black head and back but are still a beautiful orange color.

Orioles are truly beautifully colored birds. Males are a stunning mix of yellows, oranges and black. East of the plains, you will find the Baltimore Oriole. The male Baltimore oriole is bright orange with black and white wings, and it has a solid black head. The female below lacks the black head and back.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole by Thomas Luiten from Surfbirds Galleries. This female lacks the black head and back of the male.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole by Mark Szantyr from Surfbirds Galleries

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole by Mark Szantyr from Surfbirds Galleries. This is a young male beginning to acquire some black plumage of the adult male. Next spring he will return in his full adult plumage.

Another oriole of the Eastern US, is the smaller Orchard Oriole, which has a darker chestnut colored breast, a black head and tail, and black and white wings. It is located across the eastern United States from the Atlantic to the plains. Like its name suggests, it prefers orchards but can be seen in towns and rural areas.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole by Peter Beesley from Surfbirds Galleries. This male Orchard Oriole has the characteristic red body color that separates it from Baltimore Oriole.

Orchard Oriole

Female Orchard Oriole by Ian Boustead from Surfbirds Galleries

In the western US, the Hooded Oriole is a bird of the south that nests in fan palm trees. Males are bright yellow with a black face and back and long black tail. Listen for their chattering call. Hooded Orioles can be encouraged to nectar feeders with fruit jelly and nectar and orange slices.

Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole by Mark Breaks from Surfbirds Galleries

The most common oriole in the western part of the United States is the Bullock's Oriole. It can be identified by its orange cheeks and eyestripe and large white patches on its wings.

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock's Oriole by David Roemer from Surfbirds Galleries

hybrid Bullock's Baltimore Oriole

This is a hybrid Baltimore and Bullock's Oriole by Mark Szantyr from Surfbirds Galleries. This rarely photographed hybrid occurs in the mid western states where the range of Bullock's and Baltimore overlap.

Feeding Orioles

Although there are nine species of orioles which come to the United States from South America and Mexico, the above 4 species are the most regularly encountered. In the southern states, they arrive to build their nests at the beginning of April. In the north, they arrive between mid April and the beginning of May.

When the orioles first arrive from their long journey, they prefer to eat fruits and berries, but they will also eat insects. You can attract them to your yard with chopped pears, orange slices, chopped apples, or sliced bananas. These can be offered on a platform feeder or in a suet feeder. Suet that has fruit or insects in it is good to attract orioles. You also may want to try grape preserves or orange marmalade. You will need to replace these fruits and preserves daily to keep them as fresh as possible.

There are nectar feeders for orioles that are very similar to hummingbird feeders. Hummingbird feeders are usually red, and oriole feeders are orange and have larger feeding holes. Nectar for oriole feeders can be purchased, or you can make your own. This is done by boiling together one part sugar to six parts water. Let the mixture cool before putting it in the feeder, and store any leftovers in the refrigerator. The nectar will need to be changed every four to five days, and the feeder should be washed in hot soapy water.

You may want to consider planting certain trees and bushes, and you can offer nesting materials to attract orioles. They like elms, poplars, willows, and cottonwoods. They also like to feast on cherries, figs, and a variety of nuts. Pet fur, natural fiber twine, dull colored string, and natural colored yarn can be offered for nesting material. Make sure any strings you make available are no longer than six inches so the birds don't become tangled in them. Don't be discouraged if you don't attract orioles right away. It can take time to bring new birds to your yard. Seeing your first oriole will be well worth your time and effort.

Oriole Nectar Recipe:

Mix 1 cup of boiling water with 1/6 cup of sugar (regular white sugar works fine)

The basic recipe is six parts water to one part sugar. Allow the water to cool enough before hanging the feeder back in its position outside. Any left over sugar-water can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.

Nectar should be replaced a minimum of once a week and more often in the summer. When possible, it is best to locate the feeder in a shady area. Clean your oriole feeder with mild detergent and rinse thoroughly when you replace the nectar. Orioles as well as hummingbirds are attracted to its rich orange flavor.


An oriole feeder with trays for Oriole jelly. Fruit such as orange halves can be speared on the hook of the feeder.