|A male hooded oriole. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Local birders have already reported recent sightings of migrant orioles, which return to breed in Southern California during spring and summer.
Hooded and Bullock’s orioles are the two most common species of orioles found in Orange County, although there have been rare sightings of Scott’s and orchard orioles in previous years.
Orioles are medium-size songbirds about 8 inches long with slender bodies and long legs and tails. They are coveted among backyard birders mostly because of their bright colors. Hooded and Bullock’s orioles are sexually dimorphic, with males being more brightly colored than females.
Hooded orioles are named for the orange hood of the male’s breeding plumage. Males have an entirely orange or orange-yellow head, nape, rump and underparts with a distinctive black bib and narrow mask. The tail is black. And wings are black with with two white wingbars. Females are mostly olive yellow with dusky gray wings and white wingbars. These birds have long, slightly curved bills.
Adult male Bullock’s are flame-orange with a neat line through the eye and a white wing patch; females are washed in gray and yellow. They have straight, pointed bills.
Avid birder Tina Harris has two nectar feeders, two fruit or orange holders, two jelly feeders and two mealworm dishes waiting for this season’s arrival of these flashy birds to her backyard in Mission Viejo.
Harris credits the variety of foods offered to the number of birds that visited last year. “It was amazing to see four or five in the yard at a time,” she said.
“The Bullock’s were more aggressive, but sometimes the hooded would also be at a feeder at the same time.”
Manufacturers tend to make oriole feeders orange because the birds are attracted to the color. Nectar feeders made especially for orioles can better accommodate the larger birds by providing longer perches and bigger feeding ports than are typically seen on hummingbird feeders.
Orioles have a sweet tooth with an affinity for grape jelly. After feasting at the jelly feeder their beaks would turn purple, Harris said. She served halved oranges, though the birds were less attracted to the fruit than they were to the jelly.
Insects are also an important part of their diet. Harris watched females gather the mealworms she offered and carry them back to their nests in the surrounding palm trees.
“I think because the birds had housing, a food court, a fountain and a birdbath, they stuck around,” she said.
It’s also possible to attract orioles by planting native shrubs with berries or flowering plants that invite caterpillars, one of their favorite foods. And encourage nesting by delaying trimming dead palm fronds until fall.