How to Attract Orioles to Your Backyard

Orioles are among North America’s favorite backyard birds.

In this article, we will focus on how you can attract Orioles’ five species that range across large numbers of states in the US and tiny areas in Canada:

Those orioles are:

  • Baltimore Orioles, and Orchard Orioles, which live across the eastern half of the United States,
  • Bullock’s Oriole, which lives throughout the West, and
  • Scott’s and Hooded Orioles, which live in California and the southwestern states of the United States.

These principles generally apply to the rarer species of orioles you may encounter in the southern tip of Texas and the eastern coast of Florida.

Attracting Orioles to your BackYard

You don’t need to buy expensive bird-seed and complicated feeders to get started attracting orioles to your yard with food. You can start with sugar water.

Orioles are attracted to feeders that offer sugar water solutions because sugar water is sweet like the nectar of flowers on which they feed.

Of course, sugar water feeders don’t look like flowers, so it can take time for your orioles to discover the treat inside them.

One of the advantages of using sugar-water feeders is that up to 50 other species of birds will visit them. You may also see tanagers, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.

Where should you hang a sugar water feeder?

For attracting orioles, the best place to put up a sugar water feeder is on a pole.

Hanging the feeder on a pole in bright sunlight ensures that orioles will see it.

However, it is important that you place the pole no more than 10 feet (3 meters) away from shrubs, preferably shrubs with thorns or prickles, that orioles and other desirable birds can use for cover if they are spotted by predators while they are feeding.

The base of the feeder should be at least 4 feet (130 cm) above the ground.

You can use a squirrel baffle to keep squirrels and mice from investigating the feeder.

Don’t place a low-hanging feeder in any location frequented by aggressive dogs or by pet or feral cats.

When should you put your sugar water feeder?

You will get the best results from putting up a sugar-water feeder in March or April, before Orioles return from their winter migration.

Newly arrived Orioles will need to replenish energy after their long, non-stop flight, and few flowers will be in bloom to feed them.

Keep the feeders clean and full through the breeding season, until Orioles start their return migration south in September of early October.

Don’t worry about the feeder interfering with their migration in time to escape winter cold.

In Orioles, migration is triggered by changes in day length, not on feeding factors.

How to make sugar water solution for Orioles?

Nectar in flowering plants is about 21% sucrose, the same sugar as table sugar, with smaller amounts of glucose and fructose mixed in.

You can make an acceptable sugar water solution from one part sugar to four parts of water.

However, Orioles may prefer dilute solutions made with five or six parts of water to one part of table sugar.

Don’t worry about Orioles getting too much sugar in their diet. They get the protein and fat they need from insects and seeds.

Sugar water just supplies them with quick energy, so they have the strength to forage for the other foods they need.

Never use honey or brown sugar in our bird feeder. Honey can ferment, creating alcohol.

Drunk Orioles have short life expectancies due to predators. Brown, raw, organic, and turbinado sugar as well as molasses and agave nectar are harmful to Orioles.

That’s because they contain too much iron and an overdose of some B vitamins. (Yes, it is possible for birds to overdose on vitamins.)

Artificial sweeteners are harmful because they discourage birds from getting the calories they need.

Making feeders stand out to Orioles

Orioles are attracted to the color orange. Paint your feeder orange, or tie orange ribbons to it.

Don’t forget to keep your feeder clean. This way the sugar water solution is clear but the feeder itself is orange.

For best results with your sugar water feeder:

  • Remember that Orioles don’t naturally know about sugar-water feeders. They have to discover them on their own or be introduced to them when they are young. If you want mature Orioles to find your sugar-water feeder next year, then keep this in mind: Make sure you have your feeder full and clean for fledglings to enjoy this year.
  • Keep in mind that you may not see Orioles at your feeder. Even these brightly colored birds will be harder to see when the leaves on the trees come out.
  • Protect your sugar-water feeder from bees and ants. Many oriole feeders come with a built-in cup that surrounds the base of the feeder that you keep filled with water. Ants can’t swim across it. You can also put a little salad oil or olive oil around (not in) the feeding holes. This keeps bees from getting a grip, so they can’t steal the nectar.

Oranges attract Orioles visually, and provide vitamins they need without the iron they don’t.

After sugar water, try oranges

If you live in Florida or Texas, where Orioles stay all year, you can expect them to visit your sugar water feeder almost any day of the year.

If you live farther north, Orioles may be primarily interested in sugar water in the spring.

They will only feed on it if it is also easy for them to find other foods.

Once you have given Orioles the refreshment they need from an orange sugar-water feeder, you can offer them a more substantial meal.

Put out oranges sliced in half, with the peel intact. Nail the oranges cut side out horizontally to the pole where you have your sugar water feeder.

This way your Orioles can hover next to them and devour the fruit.

When the Orioles in your backyard get bored with oranges, hang up 2-inch x 2-inch (5 cm x 5 cm) trays of grape jelly.

Or put out slices of apple, banana, peach, plum, nectarine, or even cactus pears. Observe what your Orioles like best.

Then offer it to them. Your fruit buffet will also attract wrens, tanagers, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, flickers, thrashers, sapsuckers, and other kinds of birds.

And after oranges, move on to protein foods

Once you have your Orioles’ attention, it is time to start offering them protein foods, like mealworms.

Orioles feed their young high-protein, high-fat insects like mealworms.

Grubs and insects let baby Orioles build up body fat. Body fat sustains them for their long migration flight just a few weeks after they are hatched.

Orioles like mealworms because of their resemblance to caterpillars.

You should offer them from a cup you place in an elevated position (out of reach of cats and vagrant carnivorous animals) at the same time every day so your birds come to expect them at mealtime.

If you see larger birds getting all the mealworms, you can place them inside a mesh cage with openings of about 2 in x 2 in (5 cm x 5 cm) to let Orioles in while keeping larger birds out.

Orioles staying with you all year can be trained to eat from suet feeders.

You can do migrating birds a favor by putting out orange-flavored suet treats in the late summer, so they can build the fat reserves they will need for long flights.

What about water features for Orioles?

Orioles are more responsive to food than to water, but they love the sound of moving water.

A bubbling bird bath will keep them in your backyard longer in the summer. You may want to get a heated bird bath for other birds.

But Orioles won’t need it, since in most of the US they fly south for the winter.

Providing Nesting Materials for Your Orioles

Orioles don’t like to build nests in birdhouses — and that’s part of their charm.

Orioles build nests of exotic designs in trees. And each kind of oriole has its favorite trees for nesting purposes.

  • Baltimore Orioles are the Orioles most common in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. In the north, they like to build their nests in maples, oaks, poplars, and weeping willows. In the Midwest, they prefer maples, oaks, poplars, and weeping willows, plus birches. In the South, Baltimore Orioles build their nests in sycamores, pecans, and live oaks.
  • Bullock’s Oriole builds its nests in sycamores, pecans, live oaks, mesquite, and any tree that has mistletoe. They love to build nests in the middle of mistletoe. In California, these Orioles build nests in any kind of fruit tree.
  • Orchard Orioles, as you might guess, build their nests in orchard trees. They also like magnolias and long-leaf pines. In Texas, they are partial to hackberries.
  • Hooded Orioles are also partial to mistletoe, but they often build nests in palm trees.
  • In Texas, Scott’s Oriole almost always builds its nest in yucca plants. Audubon’s Oriole prefers mesquite trees. The Spot-Breasted Oriole in southeast Florida builds nests in local exotic tropical trees.

If you don’t have the right kind of tree for your Orioles, it may feed in your backyard but build its nest in a tree at your neighbor’s.

But if you have the right tree for an oriole’s nest, you can give them nest-building materials. Orioles appreciate soft string, yarn, strips of cloth, and plant fibers.

Keep fishing line away from Orioles. They will become very frustrated trying to cut it with their beaks.

If you follow all of these recommendations, and you get Orioles to stay in your backyard for several weeks, will they come back next year?

The national bird surveys tell us that about 40% of nesting orioles come back to the same location year after year.

The Benefits of Attracting Orioles to Your Backyard

There are many benefits of attracting Orioles to your backyard.

Their strikingly beautiful feathers of black and orange or yellow are a visual delight. Their suspended nests are a wonder of the bird world.

People love their whistled songs that herald the arrival of spring.

And their habit of visiting backyards for a rest on their migrations across the USA make them a special bird.

Orioles have a place in every bird lover’s heart. Five species of North American Orioles migrate every year.

The other five sometimes can be induced to stay in a backyard all year round.

The more consistently you offer food, shelter, water, and nesting materials to Orioles, the more opportunities they will have to teach their young to come back to your yard year after year.

Easy Ways You Can Help Orioles

Most Orioles are neotropical migrants.

They spend just three to five months every year in their North American breeding grounds, like your backyard, and as much as six or seven months every year in their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

If Orioles aren’t protected in their winter homes in Central and South America, they won’t be around to find their way back north every spring.

You can contribute to the good health of Orioles by buying shade-grown, organic coffee.

Coffee growers who plant their crops under shade preserve habitat for Orioles that is otherwise being cut or burned down to make room for cattle pastures.

Another thing you can do to help Orioles is to avoid using pesticides in your own backyard.

Instead of using toxic chemicals to kill infestations of caterpillars and gypsy moths, invite Orioles and other insect-eating birds to take care of them for you.

Keep a journal of the birds you see every day, and be willing to share your observations with other birdwatchers in your area.

Even if you don’t want to set up a habitat for Orioles in your own backyard, you may inspire someone else to make room for Orioles in theirs.

It also helps to keep and share records of when and where you see Orioles, what they eat when they visit your backyard, where you see their distinctive nests, and the last date you see them in the fall — that is, if you aren’t that rare and lucky homeowner who has Orioles as backyard visitors through the winter months.

And you can provide for the basic needs of Orioles, food, water, shelter, and nesting materials.

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