Of all the birds that spend the summer in the tristate area, perhaps the most colorful are the orioles. While many species of orioles reside throughout North and South America, only the Baltimore Oriole and Orchard Oriole are regularly seen in this region.
Baltimore Orioles are easily recognizable by their electric black and orange plumage and lilting whistled song. The less familiar Orchard Oriole is smaller and darker; deep chestnut rather than striking orange. Both species can frequently be found feeding on tree blossoms or constructing pendulous nests in large, shady trees.
You can encourage orioles to feed in your yard by skewering halved oranges on sharp branches, or you can attract them with enticing nesting material, such as strands of yarn, laid upon shrubs and bushes.
For such common birds, orioles have a nomenclature history nearly as colorful as the birds themselves. The name “oriole” was used since at least the 13th century to describe what is now called the Golden Oriole, a bright yellow-and- black Old World species. When the colonists arrived in the New World, they saw a wide variety of yellow (or orange) and black birds that, because of their superficial similarity to the Golden Oriole, were immediately called orioles as well.
Despite the modern genetic realization that New World orioles are more closely related to blackbirds and grackles than their Old World counterparts, the historical moniker has nonetheless stuck. One species, the Baltimore Oriole, was named because of its similarity in color to the Baron of Baltimore’s coat of arms, which can be seen today on Maryland’s state flag.
This strong association between the state, the emblem, and the bird prompted Maryland to declare the Baltimore Oriole the state bird in 1947. Of course, the Baltimore Oriole is perhaps most famous for lending its name to the Baltimore baseball team, who share the bird’s vibrant colors.
As spring progresses, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for this unmistakable bird of summer.
William Haffey is currently a seminarian for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. and has a background in avian ecology. He has birded extensively in the United States and Latin America.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.