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Mad about orioles By Sherrie Versluis

Male Baltimore oriole, with it's distinct bright plumage. B

eing such an avid bird lover people often ask me what my favourite bird is. That is a hard

one to answer because I find something wonderful in all birds but, I must say there is one bird that I quite adore and look so forward to seeing each spring: the oriole. Their brilliant plumage and even brighter song is something I liter- ally start dreaming about as spring approaches. They are such an exciting bird to see and to have them regularly visiting your own backyard is just such an honour. The most common oriole is the

Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula) but the Orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) is another species sometimes seen at birdfeeders. The male Baltimore oriole is most known for its flaming orange color with a contrasting black hood and wings which also have two white bars across them. The female and juve- niles are paler in colour with a yellow- orange plumage and grayish wings and

40 • Spring 2016

head. Their preferred habitat includes areas in and out of the city with mature trees especially elms. In fact, Dutch elm disease has played a suspected role in their decline as American Elms are one of their favourites for nesting. Nesting season begins with the

male singing loudly to stake his terri- tory and to attract a female. When one arrives, the male begins his courtship by facing the female, standing tall, then bowing up and down with his tail fanned out and wings spread. Once a female accepts a male, she begins the construction of an elaborate hanging pouch for a nest. She gathers grass, plants, bark, moss and even animal hair to weave the pouch onto a branch 20 feet or higher from the ground. The female lays three to six eggs that are pale in colour with dark speckles. She will incubate for 12 to 14 days and once the young hatch; both parents feed them until they are ready to fledge in another 12 to 14 day period.

Orioles have a varied diet and are

very beneficial in eating nuisance insects and also aid in the pollination of many trees. They eat berries, blossoms, flower nectar, beetles, spiders, grass- hoppers, wasps, and mass amounts of tent caterpillars which can be devastat- ing to tree foliage. Orioles are known for eating in a manner called 'gaping'. When they find ripe, juicy fruit, they will stab it with their beak and drink up the juice with their textured tongue. Male orchard orioles are the small-

est of North American orioles and have a deep chestnut colour rather than the bright orange of the Balti- more. Females are a combination of olive green and yellow and juvenile males are the same colour but with a black bib on the chest. Unlike the Baltimore, orchard orioles will some- times nest in groups in the same tree. Orchard orioles are also eager to get through nesting season; they arrive in May and are often heading back to

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