Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bullock's Oriole, a Summer Visitor

A mated pair returns each spring

Backyard birding in the warm months brings a special pleasure with the arrival of the Bullock’s Orioles. These birds begin to show up in early April from their summer migration.  A dash of bright orange from the green leaves and a whistling call signals that it’s time to get the nectar feeders ready to hang.

The oriole’s diet consists of fruit, insects and nectar.  They are especially drawn to the same nectar water that I supply for the hummingbirds: a 1:4 mixture of sugar to boiled water.  Their feeders are like hummingbird feeders except with slightly larger holes and larger perches.

Male Bullock’s Orioles are easy to identify with their deep orange plumage with black accents. The females and first year-males however are more difficult to identify because they have similar colors; gray-brown on the upper areas, with dull yellow on the underparts. The only noticeable difference on the male is the eye-lines and black on the throat.

Not too long after both males and females arrival they soon begin the task of nest building.  Each year the mated pair selects a site on the outer limbs of my tall elm tree.  They always make a new nest which they weave from string, strands of plastic tarp and grass that hangs like a sock.

Once the chicks hatch, the male and female are kept busy hunting for insects and flying up to the nest. Can you  spot the yellow head peeking out from the nest?

After the juvenile fledge, it’s a special treat to watch the parents training these youngsters to eat fruit from my mulberry trees and drink from the nectar feeders.

Around mid-July, I begin to miss seeing the adults and realize that they have departed to fly south where they will spend the winter.  The juveniles stay for several more weeks building up their stamina for the long trip south.

Over the years from bird watching in my yard, I began to notice a pattern where the orioles were in the yard at dusk, but gone the following morning.  I did some inquiring on the Internet and found to my surprise that orioles and songbirds migrate at night.  Studies have found that when birds are in the nest, they spend a large portion of their time at night looking out at the stars. It is believed that by watching the stars in the nest, birds develop the ability to recognize star patterns and their movement in the night sky.  Furthermore, it is theorized that birds use the North Star for navigation. During spring migration, orioles and other type birds fly to the north, or to the North Star, and in fall they fly away from it, heading south to Mexico.  On cloudy or foggy nights, it is believed that birds fly above the clouds and can actually detect the earth’s magnetism through a built-in compass.

It is always a sweet sadness when my yard becomes quiet and still.  I sure do miss the flurry of activity from these summer visitors. However I know they will be back again.  I bid them safe travels on their journey south and will look forward to their return next spring.

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