Orioles are small, brightly coloured birds found in the UK and North America. In the US, there are 8 distinct oriole species, whereas the UK has only one. Unlike most garden birds, orioles are not seed eaters. So, what do orioles eat? This article will discuss their wild diet and what you can feed to attract them to your garden.
There is only one species of oriole found in the UK and they are rare birds, seldom seen in urban areas. The golden oriole, sometimes referred to as the Eurasian oriole, is a migratory species that spends the spring and summer months in the UK and flies to Africa for the winter.
The US has 8 oriole species:
- Altamira oriole: Texas and into Mexico. Bright orange plumage, black wings with white banding and black markings around the eyes and under the beak.
- Audubon’s oriole: Texas and into Mexico. Bright yellow plumage, similar black markings as Altamira orioles.
- Baltimore oriole: Most northern states, spending winter in Florida. Bright orange plumage but more black markings around the head and back.
- Bullock’s oriole: western states from north to south, wintering in Mexico. Bright yellow plumage, black wings with white banding, black line of feather across the eyes from beak to the back of the head. feathers on the head and down the back are black.
- Hooded oriole: southern US border states and into Mexico. Bright yellow with a solid black patch under the beak and down the throat. Black wings with white banding.
- Orchard oriole: south east US states. Black head and neck with burnt orange body and wings and black banding across the wings and tail.
- Scott’s oriole: California and Arizona, winter spent in Mexico. Black hood of feathers covering the chest, throat, head and back. Black wings with white banding and bright yellow body.
- Spot-breasted oriole: South-east Florida. Mostly orange with black markings over eyes and under the beak. Black wings and tail with white banding.
What Do Orioles Eat in the Wild?
With each species living in different areas, their diets carry both similarities and differences. What do orioles eat? All orioles will forage for berries, fruits, nectar and insects.
The fruits and berries available depend upon the woodland or grassland areas a particular species inhabits and which flowering plants are present. The Insects orioles eat include flying insects, worms, caterpillars, moths and butterflies. Approximately 90% of an oriole’s diet is insects, with berries, fruits and nectar being supplemental.
Fun Fact: The diet of orioles makes them important plant and flower pollinators.
How To Attract Orioles
To attract orioles to your garden, you will need a dedicated feeding table, around 7 feet tall. Orioles will not eat seeds from a conventional bird feeder. Your oriole garden feeder will need a dish of orange slices, a small pot of mealworms and a nectar feeder.
To prevent ants from devouring the fruit, place your orange slices in a shallow dish a quarter to halfway full of water. Change the water daily to prevent mold developing.
Many birdwatchers offer grape jelly to attract orioles on their oriole bird feeder. They usually do so towards the end of the migration season. This is because the birds will be tired after their long flight and will be seeking nectar and other sugary foods.
Any grape jelly will do, but dilute it down with a tablespoon or two of water. Be sure to use a sturdy container that the birds cannot tip over.
Mealworms should be offered in late spring and early summer to coincide with the start of the nesting season. Insects have a high protein content, which is ideal for raising chicks.
Also Read: What Do Wrens Eat?
Nesting and Breeding
Oriole nesting season starts in spring and lasts until late April. Females build elaborate nests by weaving grasses, twigs, leaves and animal hair to create a hanging pouch. The nest is then lined with animal hair and feathers. The opening to the nest is at the top, just wide enough for one bird to fit through.
Orioles prefer tall deciduous trees to build their nests on as they provide lots of foliage for protection and camouflage. Nest building can last from 1 to 3 weeks. Nests are built within the territory of the female’s chosen mate.
Orioles are believed to have calls that are unique to each individual bird and oriole pairs can recognise one another from their songs.
Fun Fact: Altamira orioles build nests that hang as long as 2ft.
The female incubates the eggs, while the male protects the nest from other orioles and potential predators. He will also bring food for his mate and offspring. Chicks are ready to leave the nest after just 14 days.
Predators and Threats
Orioles are at risk from both ground and air threats. In the skies, orioles are hunted by owls, crows, blue jays, kites and hawks. Other predators include squirrels and cats.
The biggest threat to orioles is habitat loss and fragmentation due to human expansion. New road networks cut across the natural habitat of orioles and constructions decreases the available feeding and breeding ranges.
Brood parasitism is another problem for orioles. Cowbirds will lay their eggs in an oriole nest, meaning the oriole parents must raise the young. Cowbird chicks are larger than orioles and will demand more food, leaving the oriole chicks under-nourished. Some male orioles will recognise a cowbird egg and remove it from the nest.
Pesticide use is also a serious danger to orioles. Pesticides kill the insects that orioles rely on as their main food source they eat and can also poison the birds, leading to sickness or death.
All species of oriole are in decline. In the UK particularly, they are considered under threat and are difficult to spot in the wild.