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What is the State Bird of Maryland? (And Why?)

Maryland is the 9th smallest state by area and the 18th most populous in the United States. The landscape in Maryland includes a mixture of hilly areas, oak forests, mountains and sand dunes. But what is the state bird of Maryland?

The state of Maryland chose the Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula) as the state bird in 1947. In 1975, Maryland also protected the avian by inclusion in the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act. Despite these two legislative actions, the bird’s survival has been threatened since the 1980s.

The state bird of Maryland, the Baltimore Oriole.

The state bird of Maryland, the Baltimore Oriole.

Why is the Baltimore Oriole the state bird for Maryland?

You could call it kismet. In the 1600s, Cecil Calvert, Second Baron Baltimore, or simply Lord Baltimore, moved to the colonies to run the colony of Maryland. He brought with him his family’s coat of arms, which bore the same colors as the bird. His familial colors now appear on the state of Maryland’s flag. Imagine his surprise when he was greeted by a bird that seemed the natural embodiment of his own family’s crest!

This bird was born as a shoo-in for the Maryland state bird with a pedigree like that. Native to the area, for hundreds of years the state’s residents have loved the oriole, which, in the 1990s, science proved a distinct species that differs from the Northern oriole. The bird, indeed, belongs to Baltimore.

When did the Baltimore Oriole become the state bird for Maryland?

The Old Line State of Maryland legislature adopted the Baltimore oriole as the state bird in 1954. The bird’s designation appears in Chapter 54, Acts of 1947; Code of Provisions Article, Section 7-301. Maryland doesn’t share its state bird with any other state.

A pair of perched Baltimore Orioles

A pair of perched Baltimore Orioles

What does the state bird of Maryland look like?

The Baltimore oriole looks like no other bird with its bright gold-orange and black coloring. The males have solid-black heads, while female Baltimore Orioles have a gray head, as do chicks. Males have one white wing bar, but females have two.

Both genders grow to about six to eight inches in length. These birds weigh little, ranging between .06 pounds and .08 pounds. They have a wingspan of about nine to 12 inches.

Female Baltimore Oriole

Female Baltimore Oriole

How do these birds behave?

The romantic Baltimore oriole establishes his territory, then sings and chats with the females in the territory in an effort to find the right mate. During this process, he jumps from perch to perch to show his athleticism and prowess.

You will also observe the males of this species also use a bowing pose. This shows respect to the female.

A rather territorial bird, the Baltimore oriole defends his breeding territory before he has even mated. Once he has attracted a mate, the female chooses their nesting site from within the neighborhood he chose. She builds the nest high up in a tree, in a fork of branches. This species prefers American elms but will willingly use other trees. Alternatives include maples and cottonwoods.

The nest typically hangs from the branches and resembles a sock. The bird sews and weaves together fabric such as grass blades and grapevine bark, plus twine and fishing line. This creative avian flies back and forth with its material, winding it through other materials, eventually forming knots in the fabric. Her design forms two bowl shapes. The inner bowl uses a bag-like design while the outer bowl uses flexible fibers, and the interior lining provides softness.

These birds also migrate. From early April to late May, they arrive in central and eastern North America for breeding in states ranging from Louisiana up to and throughout the central US and into central Canada. Depending on how far north they traveled, they may start to fly south in late July. They winter in Florida and the Caribbean, as well as Central America and northernmost South America.

A Baltimore Oriole singing

A Baltimore Oriole singing

Do Baltimore Orioles form communities?

The Baltimore oriole forms a nuclear family. A male and female oriole mate, breeding a family. They share some duties while dividing the others. The female builds the home, as discussed, while the male guards the home. The female oriole incubates their four or five eggs, while the male forages and hunts for food for the couple. This process takes about 12 to 15 days. When the chicks hatch, both parents take care of them; both feed their young. The babies leave the nest about two weeks after they hatch. Until that time, their mother and father feed and protect them.

Female (left) and male (right) Baltimore Orioles feeding on oranges from a backyard bird feeder

Female (left) and male (right) Baltimore Orioles feeding on oranges from a backyard bird feeder

What do Baltimore Orioles eat?

Baltimore orioles dine on insects and prioritize food that provides them fats since they need to convert those calories for long flights. These birds require the fats and sugars that they eat to convert them for migration. Because they travel so frequently and so far, they vary their diet more than other birds. They eat a wide variety of insects, fruit, and nectar. They hone in on ripe, dark-colored fruit, including red cherries, mulberries, purple grapes, etc.

These birds scavenge insects from shrubs and trees, as well as catch insects in mid-air. These orioles really enjoy eating caterpillars, including the hairy types you see in the Deep South during springtime. They also prefer beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, bugs, snails, and spiders. But, before you think these colorful birds focus only on protein, they also have a few tricks up their wings to leverage the tasty larger fruits along the way to their winter homes.

It doesn’t matter that many of this bird's favorite foods are way bigger than it. Both genders think creatively and put to good use their beaks, as the females do in weaving the nest. They will use a technique called gaping in which they peck a hole into a larger fruit, then drink the juice from it, sucking it out with their tongue.

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