One of the most beautiful summer ‘visitors’ to our region would undoubtedly be the Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula — not the baseball team).
Its name was derived from the heraldic colours of Lord Baltimore, who was the governor of the Maryland Colony. In fact it is the state bird of Maryland. The male’s beautiful and bright orange and black plumage, in addition to its clear and distinct call, is both a blessing to see and to hear.
For a period of time, it was believed that this oriole had interbred with another species, and together they were referred to as northern orioles. This, however, was corrected after more research and, once again, they are called Baltimore orioles.
As a newcomer to the birding community, I first became aware of this beauty when I spotted one on our hummingbird feeder. Realizing that it was not a hummingbird (I’m a keen observer), I grabbed a quick photo, which was not too good as the bird was on the opposite side of the feeder, and a bird ID book. After realizing that it could be a Baltimore oriole, I investigated it further. This species is known to have a sweet ‘beak’ and, as I had noticed, visits hummingbird feeders regularly. I learned that people also put out grape jelly and half-oranges for these orioles to feed on.
Enough of these sweet treats will ensure you of frequent summer visits, and they may, with a regular supply, set up shop, or nest in the area. They also eat lots of insects, which helps to control them.
The nest is a unique construction in the form of a hanging pouch, built at the end of hanging branches in deciduous trees. The pouch is woven together with strong fibres, and lined with softer material. It is built with such sturdiness that it can be sometimes reused in following years.
Baltimore orioles, like so many of our summer birds, winter in the south in the southern states and Central America. Their southern migration, beginning in July and August, is earlier than most migratory species.
Last year, we had greater fortune, spotting both male and females at the hummingbird feeder.
This year, it has been pleasant to hear the distinct call in the neighbourhood as one, at least, flies around the immediate block. I have assumed it was a male, probably trying to attract a female to the area. I’ve been able to get a few photos of this one at our feeder, and have spotted one in the Paradise Grove area, and several along the walking trail at east Port Weller, a great birding location for many species.
Two factors seem to be affecting the range and distribution of these birds. One is climate change, which has reduced their presence in western areas. The other factor is the loss of elm trees from Dutch elm disease in our area. The elm trees were once the preferred nesting tree for the oriole.
All in all, a most interesting and colourful bird to see in our backyards and in the neighbourhood.