Males are a bright orange, with a dark stripe through the eye on an orange face, and a white wing patch on a black wing. Females are less dramatically colored with gray and a yellowish orange on head and tail. Orioles are related to blackbirds and have a similar long, thick and sharp-pointed bill.
They sing! A harsh, chattering rattle is used to signal alarm or just to say “Here I am.” Their song is only 3 seconds long but with rich whistled notes mixed with rattles. It may sound a bit like a child’s squeaky toy. Females usually sing from the ground while males will sing only from the trees.
Bullock’s Orioles feed in slender tree branches and shrubs gleaning caterpillars and other insects. These orioles are very agile and will sometimes hang upside down to catch their prey. Their diet includes caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, ants, bugs, stinkbugs, leafhoppers and treehoppers.
Definitely a gardener’s friend! They will also pluck insects from spider webs and catch insects in the air. They like ripe fruit from bushes and trees. Orioles use a technique called “gaping” in which they thrust their bill into the fruit (or juicy caterpillar), pry their bill open inside and lap up the juices with a brushy tongue. Also on the menu are blackberries, raspberries, cherries and figs.
The female usually makes the nest but the male may lend a helping beak. One will work inside the hanging gourd-shaped nest and one outside neatly weaving hair, twine, grasses or wool. The nest is then lined with plant-down, hair, feathers or other soft material. The depth of the nest may be a little less than 4 inches or as long as 15 inches. They like open woodlands for nesting and some favorite trees are sycamores, willows, deciduous oaks, madrones and large mesquite trees. She selects the nest site which may be 10 to 25 feet above ground. The nest is suspended from the ends of supple branches to discourage predators. Both of them guard the nest and may mob predators such as squirrels, crows and jays.
Bullock’s Orioles lay only one brood of 3-7 eggs. It will take 11 days for the eggs to hatch, and another 14 days to fledge (leave the nest). Nestlings get yummy crickets, cicadas, moth and butterfly pupae, earwigs, and ants.
If you want to attract Bullock’s Orioles to your backyard as they first arrive in this area, mix a half-and-half mixture of water and grape jelly, blended well into a syrupy mixture. Set this out in a small, shallow container. You can also buy specially designed oriole feeders and fill with sugar water. Or set out orange halves in a shallow dish of water (the water discourages ants). Be sure to replace the fruit daily to prevent mold. All these foods should be put out before these migrants arrive. If it isn’t there when they first pass through, they will keep going. As they begin nesting, they prefer mealworms rather than the sweet stuff.
Bullock’s Orioles are here for the breeding season and will leave as early as the end of July for southern Mexico. They will create small flocks of both males and females. Some females and immature orioles will leave in August and September.
The oldest Bullock’s Oriole was 8 years, 11 months old when he was found in Colorado in May 2007. His band was checked and he was released to live even longer.