Orange Birds with a Sweet Tooth

Mecklenburg county has become a wintering “hotspot” for Baltimore orioles. Over the last decade it has become apparent, based on eBird reports; Facebook posts; and personal correspondence; that there are likely several hundred orioles that call Mecklenburg home during the winter months. Sometimes a single bird will patronize a feeder but just as often small flocks will form and brighten up a backyard. They tend to like various suet offerings, shelled peanuts, mealworms, and shelled sunflower seeds. They really like grape jelly, however. If you catch a glimpse of an oriole at your feeder, offering up some regular grape jelly may convince it to hang around for a while. Do not use the sugar free or reduced sugar stuff. They like sweets and will even visit a hummingbird feeder. 

Baltimore Oriole (Adult Male)
 Photo by Phil Fowler


Bullock's Oriole (Adult Male)
Photo by Jeff Lemons


I receive photos of orioles at feeders regularly. Of course, the vast majority are Baltimore but occasionally a rare Bullock’s oriole gets into the mix. Bullock’s orioles have made a good showing throughout the state this year, including birds identified in Mecklenburg, Gaston, and Cleveland counties. Undoubtedly there are more yet to discovered.

Identification of adult males of both Baltimore and Bullock's is straightforward, but there is extensive variation in immature birds. Hybrids between the two species are known to occur, further clouding the identification challenge. Even experts spend a lot of time debating the identity of some individuals.

Baltimore Oriole (Female)
 Photo by Phil Fowler


Bullock's Oriole (Immature Male)
Photo by Phil Fowler 

If you are hosting an oriole, or orioles, this winter, look at the photos of the two species provided. If you think you might have a Bullock’s candidate please let Carol or me know. An accompanying photo would be very helpful.  In general, female Bullock’s orioles are less orange or yellow than Baltimore. Immature male Bullock’s orioles will have a black “goatee” on the chin also.