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12 Facts About Baltimore Orioles (Photos)

Baltimore Orioles are striking and beautiful songbirds in the Eastern United States. Their bright orange plumage helps them stand out from forest greenery, and their whistling tunes can be heard from the tallest of trees. They adapt well to human infrastructure, especially orchards, and can be enticed to visit backyard feeders. This article takes a look at 12 interesting facts about the Baltimore Oriole. Keep reading to learn more! 

12 Facts About Baltimore Orioles 

1. Baltimore Orioles are native to Eastern North America. 

Baltimore oriole
Baltimore oriole | Image by Peggy Dyar from Pixabay

The baltimore orioles’ range has two parts: their nesting grounds and their wintering grounds. Most of this bird’s spring and summer range is in the eastern half of North America. They nest as far south as Louisiana and Mississippi and as far north as southern Canada. 

Wintering populations migrate south into Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. They also spend winters in the Caribbean islands and most of Florida

2. The name Baltimore oriole is connected with the state of Maryland

You may think this colorful oriole is named after Baltimore, Maryland. And it is, in a roundabout way. Technically, their name comes from their resemblance to the colors on the coat-of-arms of 17th century Englishman, Lord Baltimore.

However, the Maryland city was named after him, so it’s all connected. They are the official state bird of Maryland, and also serve as the mascot for Maryland’s baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles.  

3. They are affected by Dutch elm disease

Dutch elm disease is not an ailment that affects birds directly. It’s actually a disease that kills and weakens American elm trees, one of this songbird’s favorite habitat trees. The disease is spread by a beetle, which leaves a fungi behind that kills the tree.

When it was introduced from Asia, North American trees had no natural defenses against it. In the last few decades since Dutch elm disease spread to the United States and Canada, Baltimore Orioles have adapted to environmental conditions and made nests in different species of trees such as maple and cottonwood, but it has led to a slight decrease in the population. 

4. The male and female Baltimore oriole’s feathers are slightly different colors 

In many species of songbirds, the males’ feathers are more brightly colored than females’. Baltimore Orioles are no different. Males have a black head and back, bright orange body and black and white wings. Females are more of a yellowish color with gray wings.

5. Baltimore orioles like to perch in high branches

Baltimore oriole on tree branch
Baltimore oriole on tree branch | image by Rodney Campbell via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Baltimore Orioles love tall trees and good vantage points. Within their range, they like to perch in the canopy of the tallest trees. They search through the leaves, bark, buds and flowers for insects. Learning their whistling song and calls can help alert you when one is around. Once you hear it, look up in tall treetops to spot a flash of orange. 

6. Baltimore orioles can make holes in fruit to drink the juice

While Baltimore orioles eat a lot of insects, they are also fond of fruits and berries. They can eat them normally, or engage in a behavior called “gaping”. In gaping, they insert their closed beak into the fruit, then open their beak wide to create a hole or channel in the fruit. In juicy fruits, the hole they made will fill up with fruit juices that they will lap up. Next best thing to a straw!

7. The female Baltimore oriole builds a hammock-like hanging nest 

Male baltimore oriole on its nest
Male baltimore oriole on its nest | image by synspectrum via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

One of the most remarkable traits of the Baltimore Oriole is its hanging, sock-like nest. Females usually build the nest themselves, but males occasionally help by bringing materials. Once she chooses a nest site within her mate’s territory, the female gets to work.

She collects small fibers which she loops around a forked branch close to the top of a tree’s trunk. After making an anchor, she weaves the rest of the nest with materials like grass, vine bark and wool. She will sometimes incorporate man-made materials like twine, plastic strips or fishing line. The inside of the cup is then lined with soft materials to cushion the eggs.  

8. Male Baltimore orioles impress females by dancing. 

After migrating back to their nesting grounds, males immediately establish their nesting territory. They work to impress females with a dancing routine.

The male bows to the female, hops around her, and spreads his wings to show off his orange coloring. When she flutters her wings and calls back to him, the deal is sealed. 

9. In the wild, Baltimore orioles eat insects, nectar, and fruit

Baltimore oriole eating banana
Baltimore oriole eating banana | image by sam may via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Baltimore Orioles diet consists of fruits, nectar and insects. How much of these foods they consume shifts according to the season: in the summer, they eat more insects and feed insects to their young.

But in the fall, they consume more fruits and ripening berries. Some farmers consider them pests because they damage the fruit still on the vine or branch. 

These orioles don’t mind sharing feeding sites with others, even during the breeding season. Unlike some other birds they don’t bother to defend a large feeding territory, they only chase others away from their immediate nest area. 

They will sometimes come to investigate hummingbird feeders, but often aren’t able to get much nectar out of them because the holes are too small. You can find nectar feeders made especially for orioles in our favorite feeders for orioles list.

Female baltimore oriole eating grape jelly
Female baltimore oriole eating grape jelly | image by ksblack99 via Flickr

10. Male Baltimore orioles defend their territory by singing

Baltimore Orioles don’t spend their time defending huge swathes of territory from each other. Even mated pairs only defend their nesting areas. In the event that a male does feel the need to assert his boundaries, he sings. 

The male Baltimore Oriole’s job as a parent is to help feed the young and defend the nest. He does so by singing his whistly song, which amiably lets other birds know he owns the area. 

11. Males aren’t bright orange until they are two years old. 

Young male baltimore oriole
Young male baltimore oriole | image by Ryan A. Candee via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Males have drab feathers until they turn two. Females usually pick their mates based on how bright his orange feathers are, so it’s rare that a young male without adult plumage finds a mate. 

Females, which start out more of a brownish-yellow, grow slightly more orange with each years molt. Older females that have gone through many molts may be quite orange, almost as orange as males!

12. Baltimore Orioles will visit backyards

If you live near their preferred habitat, there are a few thing you can do to attract them to your yard. The best tactics include offering jelly, offering orange halves, putting out a nectar feeder, planting fruit-bearing plants, or keeping tall shade-producing trees. We go into these options in more detail in our article here about attracting orioles.