The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) is one of seven American Oriole species from the Icteridae family. These spectacular songbirds have become increasingly common in suburban areas in the USA, and many backyard birdwatchers eagerly await their return each spring.
Males and females are usually visibly different, although they are not always easy to distinguish, so what do female Baltimore Orioles look like?
Female Baltimore Orioles vary from pale yellow to rich golden orange below. Their upper parts are olive to black, and they have a pair of white stripes across each wing. Older females are difficult to distinguish from first-year males.
Distinguishing the sexes by looks alone can be difficult. However, birdwatchers can look for certain behaviors to make a more accurate identification, particularly during the Baltimore Oriole nesting season. Females can also be confused with a few other American birds, particularly other Oriole species.
This article covers the identification and behavior of the female Baltimore Oriole. Read along to learn how to distinguish them from males and other similar species.
Close up of a perched female Baltimore Oriole
It is easy to identify adult male Baltimore Orioles by their black head and mantle. Their underparts are usually a richer golden orange shade than their female counterparts.
Females Baltimore Orioles may appear very similar to males, although their upper parts are lighter, ranging from dark brown to olive. They have two white bars on their wings, while males have just one. Females also have a brownish tail, rather than the orange and black of the males.
However, females can look more and more like males as they mature. Continue reading to learn more about the female Baltimore Oriole appearance.
Female Baltimore Oriole - as females get older, they can look more like males.
Male Baltimore Oriole
Female Baltimore Orioles appear yellowish below and darker above, with white markings on the upper side of their wings. They vary from pale yellowish to an intense yellowish-orange below. They are darker above, with a patterned back. Their head may be yellowish or the same color as their back.
Female Baltimore Orioles are about the size of an Eastern Bluebird and look more or less the same throughout the year. They have a fairly typical songbird shape, with longish legs and tails and a sharply pointed bill. However, their plumage coloration varies, and their colors may intensify as they mature.
Females are highly variable, which can cause some confusion. Their golden underparts and dark upper parts may become bolder and darker as they mature, causing some mature females to look much like adult males.
Older female Baltimore Orioles can be more tricky to tell apart from males
First-year male Baltimore Orioles can resemble females until they develop their black head and back plumage by their second fall season. Similar plumage makes distinguishing females from juvenile males quite a challenge.
Some young males find partners and successfully mate before attaining their adult plumage. The similarity between these young males and females can even make it difficult to separate the members of a pair. However, some of the behavioral differences discussed later in this article can be helpful in such cases.
Female (left) and male (right) Baltimore Orioles
Female Baltimore Orioles are most easily confused with the immature male or female Orchard Orioles and Bullock’s Orioles. The latter species overlaps with the Baltimore Oriole from Alberta, Canada to Oklahoma, and the two species hybridize along this narrow corridor.
Orchard Orioles (I. spurius) overlap with Baltimore Orioles over most of their North American distribution range. Bullock’s Orioles (I. bullockii) are only likely to be confused where they overlap and hybridize.
The female Lesser Goldfinch and female American Goldfinch could also be confused at a distance, although they are much smaller birds with short, conical bills.
A pair of Baltimore Orioles - female on the left, male on the right
Baltimore Orioles are medium-sized songbirds with a wingspan of ten to twelve inches (26 - 30 cm) and a mass of 1.1-1.4 ounces (30 - 40 g). Females are slightly lighter and have a shorter body length than males, although the size difference is not very noticeable in the field.
Female Baltimore Orioles are similar to males in size and can be very similar in appearance. However, some differences in behavior make it easier to tell them apart.
A breeding pair of Baltimore Orioles, during courtship - female left, male right
Whether they’re up high in the canopy or even feeding on fruit and nectar at a backyard feeding station, you'll only see these migratory birds for a few months of the year. Female Baltimore Orioles begin their migration after the males and usually arrive in the breeding grounds about a week later.
Baltimore Orioles are territorial when nesting, and males defend their area and do their best to keep a visiting female from leaving. They can be rather vocal and aggressive during this time. Females can also be aggressive, although usually only toward other females.
Baltimore Oriole (female) perched in a berry-laden bush
Female Baltimore Orioles do not sing as frequently as males. Their song is also shorter and less complex. Both sexes produce a chatter call and a brief alarm call when acting aggressively towards another Baltimore Oriole or when agitated by the presence of predators or humans.
Female Baltimore Orioles produce soft calls from the nest, perhaps to communicate with their partner. They also make loud calls when pursuing or being chased by intruders and nest parasites like Cowbirds.
Female Baltimore Oriole bathing in water
Baltimore Orioles do not waste any time when nesting. Pairs form within a week, and mating can occur just days after the female’s arrival on the breeding grounds. Males occasionally feed the brooding or incubating female.
Female Baltimore Orioles select a nest site after finding a partner and build their characteristic hanging nest within the male’s territory. They construct the nest alone, although some males will contribute building materials. They prefer to build their nests in deciduous trees like American Elms.
The nest is usually complete within about a week, and most females lay four or five off-white eggs. They incubate the eggs alone, which takes up to two weeks. She also broods the young alone, although the male helps to feed the growing chicks. Feeding lasts almost two weeks while the chicks grow in the nest and a further two weeks while they learn to forage for themselves.
It’s pretty clear that female Baltimore Orioles do the lion’s share of the work when caring for their eggs and chicks, but can they do it all by themselves?
Female Baltimore Oriole close up from the back
Female Baltimore Orioles have the ability to raise their young alone. Even though males typically assist in feeding the chicks, one study found that thirty percent of females who had lost their partner provided enough food on their own.
Female Baltimore Orioles are yellow/orange below and darker above. They have a pair of white bars on each wing, and their legs and bills are gray. The color of their plumage varies, partly with age.
Female and male Baltimore Orioles eating grape jelly from a feeder
Female Baltimore Orioles produce various sounds, including alarm and aggressive calls, in response to predators and unwelcome intruders. Typical vocalizations include rapid chattering, sharp ‘chuck’ calls at varying intervals, chirps, and screaming calls.
Male Baltimore Orioles sing unique songs by combining notes in a specific order. Females also sing, although not as well or as often as their male counterparts. Males tend to sing from exposed perches, while females are more likely to sing while foraging.
The female Orchard Oriole is often confused with the Female Baltimore Oriole. However, female Orchard Orioles are smaller and have plain unmarked backs. Female Orchard Orioles are also yellowish and do not develop the rich orange color of mature female Baltimore Orioles.
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