The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 25, 2004


Baltimore Oriole

(Photo by Sue Finnegan, Wing Island Banding Station, Brewster, Mass.)
Name: Baltimore Oriole or Icterus galbula, member of the blackbird family and related to the grackles and cowbirds. There are other orioles in the genus, Icterus. This one is called the Baltimore Oriole not because it can be found in Baltimore but because the coat-of-arms of the First Baron of Baltimore, Sir George Calvert, were black and orange.

When and where seen: Mary D'Agostino saw a Baltimore Oriole visiting the feeding stations in her yard on North Road on June 12 and 13. I spotted one early in May — most years I see one in the crab apple tree when it is in full bloom. Mass Audubon says that they turn up in Massachusetts "punctually the first week of May." The departure schedule is less precise: the adults stay until early August and immature birds stay till late August or early September.

Distinguishing characteristics: The male is a spectacular orange and black bird. The head and throat are black and the breast and belly are orange. You often just see a flash of flame as the bird flies by. The females are olive above and pale yellow below. They are about the size of a red-winged blackbird.

Nesting: Baltimore Orioles build hanging nests out of plant fibers, hair, wool, spider webs and even bits of synthetic materials they find. The nest is lined with plant down and feathers. The nests usually hang from the tips of twigs of large trees but are very hard to spot. A friend in Chelmsford once saw one in a weeping willow, whose foliage is not so dense. Tom Brownrigg saw a nest in a maple in the Towle Land this Spring — the nest was from last year. Most of the nests make it through the winter and provide material for the next season's nests for Baltimore Orioles and other birds.

Attracting Orioles: If you put out horse hair and pieces of yarn, it's possible that the orioles will nest nearby and you might see them gathering the material. They are reputed to visit sugar-water feeders so if you have a feeder for hummingbirds you may also attract an oriole — if the feeder has a perch. Their main food is insects, but it is supplemented with nectar and fruit. If you put out cut oranges in the spring you may be rewarded with oriole visitors.

Mass Audubon Baltimore Oriole Project: Mass Audubon has a program for monitoring some relatively common birds that it thinks may be in decline in Massachusetts. As part of this program, they are collecting information about Baltimore Oriole nesting sites. They would like to know about any actual nest sightings as well as circumstantial evidence like males singing or the presence of adult females. The time period of interest is from May 15, 2004 to July 31, 2004. For particulars about submitting information, go to the main Mass Audubon web site ( and put "oriole project" into the search window.

References: Mass Audubon at; David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds; Robert Burton, North American Birdfeeder Handbook.

Ideas for topics are welcome. The only requirements are that the subject exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. It doesn't have to be rare or unusual — a great photo can justify a column. The chipmunks are clammering for their 15 minutes of fame. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or e-mail her at

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito