(photo by Diane McAllister) This photo of a Snowy Owl was taken by Diane McAllister when she was in British Columbia during the 2013 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Get geared up for the Great Backyard Bird Count

Gary Phillips, professor at Iowa Lakes Community College, discusses life in the water with Estherville Lincoln Central 5th graders.

Visiting the Iowa Lakeside Lab

May 5, 2014 Comments (0) Conservation / Wildlife

Orioles are on their way

By Steve Weisman

Orioles should be returning any time, stopping in for a quick sweet treat.

Orioles should be returning any time, stopping in for a quick sweet treat.

Even though it has been a long time coming, spring is making its move.  Even so, slowly but surely, songbirds have been making their way back north. Robins are always harbingers of spring, often arriving during mild weather and then getting caught with one of those final snowstorms. Still, they hang in there, and their morning song gives us hope!

One of the songbirds that my wife and I always look forward to seeing is the Baltimore oriole. Year in and year out, it seems that they always make their appearance in northwest Iowa around the end of April/early May.

As of earlier this week, I heard reports of orioles being sighted in Council Bluffs and Iowa City, so it is definitely time to get the feeders out! My suggestion is to put the feeder in a place where you can watch the action from your favorite “inside the house spot!”

The first sighting is always so awesome, especially when the brightly colored male makes his appearance. If you get the scouts, the “rest of the gang” will follow, and you will be set for several months of oriole antics!

Feeding them is really easy. All you have to do is appeal to their love of sweets: grape jelly and orange halves! I will tell you this, however. You will go through a bunch, and I mean a bunch of grape jelly!

I will warn you, though, that other birds have a sweet tooth, too. Starlings, grackles and sparrows will descend on the open platform feeders. So, we handled that challenge and purchased a wire cage that goes over the feeder. The openings are small enough to let in the orioles but keep out the larger riff-raff! Initially, the grackles and starlings will appear, but when they realize they can’t squeeze into the cage, they will give up.

It takes the orioles a little while to figure it out, but after a few times of sitting on the top of the cage, they soon learn that their body fits and into the cage they go. We have tied a couple of sticks for perches to the cage to make it easier access for the orioles.

Although some people only keep the feeders going for a few weeks, we keep going because the adults will bring their young-of-the-year to the feeders as soon as they learn to fly. That’s when we begin to really get to observe “oriole antics!”

Later in the summer, the insects really make things a mess in the open feeders, especially the flies. So, we then turn to the oriole nectar feeders. You can either fill these with store bought ready-made nectar, or you can use sugar water that you would use in your hummingbird feeders.

The orioles adjust to the change, and the nectar feeders are certainly easier to keep clean.

We place our feeders on hangers just off the edge of our deck so that we can see the orioles come and go right from our living and dining room. Plus, after the birds get used to us, they will actually come to the feeders when we are sitting on the deck only a few yards away!


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