Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Orchard Oriole: Song of the Season

For weeks I gave credit to the Indigo Buntings for the boisterous, beautiful songs I heard nearly every time I went outdoors during daylight hours.  When the buntings left to continue their migration northward, the song continued, so naturally it struck my curiosity.  If the buntings weren't responsible for the songs, then what bird was? 

Several days I searched my outdoor surroundings for the source of music without even seeing a clue.  My curiosity heightened each day as I tried to solve this mystery.  Finally, as I was sitting on the front porch one day, I heard a ruckus in a nearby azalea bush.  Upon investigation, I saw that a Mockingbird had given chase to a couple of birds and they hurriedly flew in the bush for cover.  Suddenly, a pair of yellow birds rushed from the bush and flew frantically for several seconds before perching high in a nearby tree.  I had not seen these yellow birds before...what kind of birds are they?  I didn't know because at the time I couldn't get a closer view of them.  

I was on a mission the following days as I attempted to capture images of the yellow birds and find out if they were the source of the beautiful bird song I kept hearing.  I kept close attention to the nearby trees, looking for hints of yellow.  One day I followed the sound of the song for several minutes and finally saw it- yes, yes, yes...it came from a bright yellow bird.  Perched upon a branch high in the tree, he belted out his loud, musical tune which echoed through the air.  I stood there quietly watching, being careful not to frighten him and listened.  What a melody he sings- it is my favorite among all the bird songs I hear every day.  

Soon after, I captured some shots of his mate.  I took notice that these birds were never seen near the bird feeders.  As a matter of fact, they were never seen on the ground either.  What kind of birds are these, and what is their food source?  I wondered.

Further research indicated that they are Orioles.  But, because most species of Orioles reside either north or west of the state of Mississippi, I remained uncertain of this bird's identification.  After scrolling through dozens of Oriole images and articles, I determined that this pair of yellow winged jewels are Orchard Orioles.  Finally, mystery solved.  

First year male Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole

The Orchard Oriole is a long-distance migrant from Mexico and northern South America. The smallest of North America’s orioles, it gleans insects from foliage and builds hanging, pouch-like nests during its brief breeding season, and then heads back to Central America for the rest of the year. Orchard Orioles migrate north late in the spring and head southward early, with some returning to their wintering grounds as early as mid-July. Because of the short breeding season, researchers have trouble distinguishing between breeding orioles and migrating ones in any given location.  

Orchard Orioles don’t visit seed feeders, but they may drink nectar from hummingbird feeders or visit slices of oranges or offerings of fruit jelly. They are also insectivores, so a shrubby backyard may provide enough insects and spiders to attract them. They glean prey from the foliage, including parasitic wasps, ants, bugs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, mayflies, and spiders. They drink nectar from flowers (and hummingbird feeders). Their diet shifts to mostly fruit just before fall migration. Migrating flocks forage on ripe mulberries, chokecherries, and other berries. On their Central American wintering grounds they feed on fruits, nectar, and pollen.

The nest and female as she gathers nesting materials

A few days ago, the female was spotted on a branch with a gathering of nesting material stuffed in her beak. I watched her as she flew to the nest which hung from the end of a branch in a nearby tree. I'm not certain she will continue to nest there though, because one of the Mockingbirds continually harassed her. It's been a couple of days since I've seen her. Has she abandoned this nest and started a new one? I hope so. I would enjoy watching the activities surrounding the nestlings, but I fear that our cat or one of the other cats in the neighborhood would get them once they fledge.

Because Orchard Orioles are among the earliest birds to leave their breeding grounds, I expect this pair to be around until about mid-July. So far a while longer, I will keep an ear open to enjoy the sweet songs of the male oriole.

When the 1st year male becomes an adult, he'll be a gorgeous crimson color, as shown in the above video.

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