article and photos by Rose Collison
Two oriole species are found in Michigan. The Baltimore oriole have adapted well to human settlement and often feeds at nectar/jelly/fruit/mealworm/suet feeders. The darker-colored and more sleek orchard oriole also may come to eat at backyard feeders but are less common. One study found they eat 91% insects and 9% plant materials during the breeding season.
Confusion on the number of species of orioles in Michigan exists because their physical description may vary depending on whether the bird spotted is a breeding or non breeding male, female, young, or first-year oriole.
Adult Baltimore oriole males have a bright orange body and a solid black hood and back. Their wings are black with white wing bars, and the tail is orange with black streaks. Adult females are paler than males and may range in color from yellow to orange with a brown tweed to blackish head, back and wings. Juveniles are yellowish-brown with dark brown wings that have a white wing bar. Immature Baltimore orioles are variable, typically resembling the female until they grow their adult plumage after a year of age.
Breeding orchard oriole males have a dark orange or brick red bodies and a black hood, back and wings. The wings also have chestnut epaulets and a white wing bar and tips. In the fall, the non-breeding male grows chestnut-tipped feathers which may obscure the black coloration.
Breeding orchard oriole females are bright greenish yellow below, olive green above with brownish wings that have two narrow white wing bars. Non-breeding females are duller in colors. Juvenile Orchard Orioles of both sexes are similar in appearance to adult females, but they are browner above and more yellow below.
Second year males are similar to adult females, but have a solid black bib and black between the eye and bill. Black adult plumage varies considerably between individuals with some males of this age having blacker feathering than others.
The orioles’ hanging-basket nest is an engineering masterpiece woven with plant fibers, grasses, vines and tree bark and sometimes string or yarn. Their nests, woven with thousands of knots, and tied solely with their beaks, hang 6 to 45 feet in the air and often dangle near the tip of a tree limb, keeping the young safe from most predators.
The female builds her nest and incubates the eggs with little or no help from its mate, but both feed the young. Orioles will lay 4 to 5 eggs from May to June and the young will fledge as late as 30 days from egg laying.