The Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) is a widespread summer visitor to the eastern half of the United States. Each year, these migratory songbirds visit the US between May and August to nest.
Males, with their rusty chestnut coloration, are unique among the American Icterus species. However, identifying female Orchard Orioles can present a challenge. So what do female Orchard Orioles look like?
Female Orchard Orioles are small, slender songbirds with yellowish underparts and olive upperparts. Their solid, greenish-yellow bellies and smaller size separate them from similar Oriole species, although birdwatchers should also note their wing plumage and calls.
Orchard Orioles use a variety of natural habitats, from woodlands to marshes, and they often visit backyards. They share these habitats with some similar songbirds from various families. It is easy to determine the sex of an adult Orchard Oriole, although juvenile males resemble adult females in the months after fledging the nest.
This article covers the appearance and habits of the female Orchard Oriole. Read along to learn more about these wonderful songbirds and how to tell them from other similar birds.
Close up of a Orchard Oriole female, perched on a branch
You could be forgiven for thinking male and female Orchard Orioles are two different species. These birds show distinct sexual dimorphism, resulting in different plumage coloration and patterns.
Female Orchard Orioles are yellow below, with olive green on top of their head, back, and tails. Their wings show more contrast, with darker flight feathers and paired white bars. Adult males have rich brown underparts, rumps, and shoulders. Their head, back, tail, and flight feathers are black.
Several American songbirds are yellowish. So how do birdwatchers accurately identify female Orchard Orioles? Continue reading for some species-specific features.
Female Orchard Oriole
Male Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Orioles are small/medium-sized songbirds, comparable with an Eastern Bluebird but more slender. Females have very dark eyes and gray legs. Their beaks are pinkish to gray and may appear lighter below.
They have a medium-length tail, and their bill is sharply pointed and may appear slightly down-curved towards the tip.
Female Orchard Oriole is perched on a dead branch. Rondeau Provincial Park, Chatham-Kent, Ontario, Canada
Female Orchard Orioles appear similar to other Orioles, although they are smaller and have relatively short bills and tails compared with other species. They also resemble some other American songbirds from various families.
The following species are most likely to be confused with Female Orchard Orioles:
Juvenile male and female Orchard Orioles are very similar to females until the late summer of their first year. In their second year, juvenile males develop a black throat patch which is a good indicator to look out for.
These young males may successfully find a partner and raise a family before they develop their full adult coloration, although females pay them less attention than mature males.
Female Orchard Oriole stood upright
Orchard Orioles are the smallest North American Orioles. Females are slightly smaller than males on average, although the difference is not visible.
Immature males look a lot like females, but they have black throats
Adult male and female Orchard Orioles are easy to distinguish by plumage coloration, but birdwatchers might also spot some interesting behavioral differences.
Orchard Orioles spend relatively little time on their North American breeding grounds compared with other Neotropical migrants. They often arrive toward the end of spring and may leave before the start of fall.
Female Orchard Orioles arrive on their summer breeding grounds later than males. Early arrival gives the males a chance to set up territories to attract a partner. Once nesting is complete, the females form small flocks with juveniles and remain for up to six weeks longer than the males.
Females display their interest in males by engaging in some ritualized movements. They will face their potential partner by lifting their tail and head alternately to form a rocking motion. They will also beg in the typical fashion of a young songbird by crouching and fluttering their wings.
Female Orchard Oriole bathing in water
Experienced birdwatchers can also identify male and female Orchard Orioles by their vocalizations. Both sexes produce a variety of calls, but the female’s song is audibly different from the male’s. Both sing a harsh, robin-like song, although the females sing shorter and faster.
You’ll notice a clear division of labor if you’re lucky enough to observe an active Orchard Oriole nest. Continue reading to learn about the female’s nesting behaviors.
Perched female Orchard Oriole calling
Orchard Orioles form pairs soon after arriving on the breeding grounds. Partners will remain together during the nesting season, although they do not often find each other in consecutive years.
Females Orchard Orioles do most of the nest building, which takes a little less than a week. Their nest is a well-rounded cup, typically suspended somewhat between two twigs. She lays four or five variably marked eggs a few days after completing the nest.
Only the female develops a brood patch, and she incubates the eggs alone for about two weeks. However, the male is usually in close attendance, looking out for danger and bringing food for his partner.
Once hatched, both partners will feed the nestlings and remove their droppings to keep the nest clean. The young fledge early, just two weeks after hatching, and continue to rely on their parents for food.
Orchard Oriole (female) feeding on cranberries from the bush
Male and female Orchard Orioles work together to produce one or two broods each year, so females are unlikely to succeed at raising their young alone.
Females do more than their fair share of the nest-building and incubation duties, but they rely on their partner to assist in feeding the nestlings and fledglings.
Female Orchard Orioles are predominantly yellow. They appear darker above, with brownish wings and olive green on their back and the top of their head. A closer look will reveal white bars on each wing and a dark bill, legs, and eyes.
Orchard Orioles produce different calls depending on their behavior and circumstances. You might hear their chatter call during conflicts with other females or other bird species. Females and young usually make a whistling call after forming small flocks ahead of the fall migration.
Females birds are less known for singing than males, but female Orchard Orioles sing all -through the breeding season. However, they are less vocal than males, and their songs are usually more hurried.
Female Orchard Oriole in Serviceberry Bush
The Orchard Oriole and Baltimore Oriole are the two most widespread Icterus species in the eastern half of the United States.
Males have distinct color differences, but females are quite easily confused since they have similar plumage and habitat preferences. However, there are some notable differences between the two.
Baltimore Orioles are significantly heavier (roughly 50-75%) than Orchard Orioles. With some experience, the difference could be noticeable even if you don’t see the two species side by side.
The females of both species appear yellowish. However, female Baltimore Orioles often have darker plumage on the back and head, and warmer, richer underparts with varying amounts of orange. Female Orchard Orioles are greenish in comparison.
The two species have a very similar distribution, although Baltimore Orioles extend further north into Canada. Baltimore Orioles begin to arrive in the United States in early May and have mostly left by late September. Orchard Orioles first return to the south around mid-April, and most depart by late August.
Female Orchard Oriole
Female Baltimore Oriole
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