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All About Baltimore Orioles

Male Baltimore oriole sitting on a bird feeder
Photo by Jerry Attere.

As leaves and flowers begin to emerge this spring, many brightly colored birds are migrating north along the Mississippi flyway through Chicagoland to find a place to nest and raise their young.

The much-anticipated Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) find their way through Illinois from as far as Central and South America beginning in late April and early May. The bright orange and black plumage of the male make it a highly anticipated sight by many first-time birders as well as experienced birding enthusiasts.

May is their peak month for nest building and you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the less vibrant female working to gather plant fibers, hair and other found materials to weave a unique hanging nest in a tall tree. Female orioles may lay as many as seven eggs and the father and mother feed their young until they are ready to leave the nest just 2-3 weeks after hatching.

Baltimore orioles are drawn to spring’s flowering trees and shrubs in open woodlands where they use their paintbrush-like tongue to lap the sweet nectar they offer. Part of the blackbird family, Baltimore orioles dine on insects and ripe berries throughout the warm summer months.

So how do you draw these stunning songbirds to your backyard? As they arrive near the end of this month to early May, they’re looking for a food source to satisfy their hunger from their 1,000-plus mile journey. They’re attracted to the color orange, so place a halved orange on a branch, offer fresh grape jelly or even dried mealworms from a shallow bowl or feeder. In the coming days and weeks, watch and listen for these spring beauties in your neighborhood.

For more information about Baltimore orioles, visit The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website, where you can also listen to the Baltimore oriole song.