For those who have computers and are on Facebook, join local photography sites to see what’s going on around our state. You won’t be sorry. Right now, a slew of oriole pictures--Baltimore, Bullock, and orchard-- fill scroll bars daily. Based on the shots I’m seeing, Kansas is currently inundated with these pretty birds. I love the digital captures of these saucy black and orange avians as well as stories about them that photographers post.
If you aren’t a birder or someone who loves one of these obsessed individuals, you may not have a clue about these colorful birds other than the fact you saw a streak of orange and black flit through nearby trees. In addition to their eye-catching plumage, they build quaint nests that look like small brown bags. While harder to see when trees leaf out, once foliage drops in the fall, you’ll see these burlap sack shapes dangling from bare branches. As a child, I love spotting an oriole nest and imagining what it would be like to begin life swaying in Kansas breezes.
These distinctly marked creatures migrate to Kansas each spring to feast on insect, nectar, and fruit as well as raise their young. One of the reasons photography and birding sites fill with these creatures’ likenesses is that May is their peak nest building time. They’ve completed long journeys from as far away as South America, and now they’re ready to weave those clever nurseries for their young.
The Baltimore sub-species is the most brightly colored with the male’s deep orange contrasting sharply against black feathers. The Bullock tends to a more yellow hue while the orchard is a russet tinge that camouflages more easily than its vivid kin. Based on the pictures posted online, these are the common Kansas visitors. Residents of Southern states claim a few more varieties for bird watchers to add to life lists.
In addition to being lovely to look at, orioles sing beautifully as well. Because they are so attractive and their songs brighten humans’ lives, many folks invite these birds to their yards. Nailing or propping half an orange in a nearby tree is a good way to lure one onto the premises. They are also fond of grape jelly served up in a fancy store-bought feeder or in less stylish jar lids nailed to a board. Based on cyberspace anecdotes, these feathered friends keep homeowners running to the grocery store to buy more of this sweet stuff. One birder in an oriole-dense community in Eastern Kansas reported that their local Aldi’s recently ran out of grape jelly. Once the store got a new shipment, the jars flew off the shelves into the hands of oriole buffs.
Buying scads of Welches is one thing, but sacrificing fresh fruit to this creature is another. A friend has a small orchard, and he’s not nearly as fond of orioles as these people putting pictures online. He’s battled aptly named orchard orioles for several years as they peck damaging holes in his ripening peaches. I have to confess that would frustrate me too. Their brilliant coloration and their lilting songs wouldn’t make up for the ruined hopes for luscious peach pies and cobblers I had as I watched blossoms open each spring.
Like all things on our blue planet, orioles are good and bad. Enjoy their coloring and their song, but protect your fruit trees from them. More than anything, sign up for some photo pages so you can enjoy their visits in other people’s yards.