One of the nations’ pickiest – as well as most colorful – backyard visitors, Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are particularly attracted to fruits, flowers and feeders that match their own bright orange plumage.
To find more about their unusual dietary habits and particularly sweet tooth, take a look at our guide as we answer some common questions about what Baltimore orioles eat.
The dietary preferences of Baltimore orioles change depending on the season, with fruit forming the biggest part of their fall and winter food intake. In summer, insects and invertebrates, particularly caterpillars, become a more significant element of their diet.
Breeding season, and the need to feed their young with high-protein food, explains this temporary change in taste. At other times of the year, the juiciest, ripest fruits are irresistible and Baltimore orioles are common visitors to backyard feeders that are stocked with oranges or sugar water.
Read on to find out more about what a Baltimore oriole’s top food choices are at different times of the year, and how you stand the best chance of attracting these brightly colored birds to your yard.
A male Baltimore Oriole feeding on berries
Baltimore orioles’ dietary preferences change according to the season. In spring and fall, ahead of their migrations, they seek out the sweetest, ripest fruits and berries with a high sugar content, to boost their energy resources. They top up these reserves by drinking nectar from fruit and, where available, sugar water at backyard feeders.
They show a distinct preference for darker-skinned fruits, with yellow or green-skinned grapes or cherries often overlooked, even if they are ripe and ready to eat.
In summer, they turn to caterpillars, larvae, and insects for the largest share of their nutritional needs.
Oranges halved and left on bird feeders are a favorite of Baltimore orioles across the United States. Grape jelly is also sought out by birds that rely on humans to feed their cravings for sweet, sugary foods. Peaches, bananas and grapes will also be eaten by Baltimore orioles at backyard feeding stations.
When it comes to selecting their own, wild-grown fruits, Baltimore orioles have been observed to have a preference for the darkest, ripest fruits and berries, with purple or deep-red skinned cherries, mulberries, blackberries, and grapes a top choice.
Female Baltimore Oriole feeding on a halved orange
Baltimore orioles are active feeders throughout the day and will regularly return to visit the same backyard feeding stations where food supplies are kept topped up. In the summer, they can be spotted in the upper branches of trees, waiting opportunistically for passing insects.
Baltimore Orioles have a particular fondness for oranges
In winter months, it is not uncommon for Baltimore orioles to visit garden bird feeders, particularly those designed and stocked for hummingbirds. They also take fruits such as oranges and bananas that are left on backyard bird tables or feeding stations. They will not, however, feed from traditional feeders filled with seeds or nuts.
Baltimore orioles are particularly attracted to feeders that are the color orange.
Baltimore orioles actively forage and feed throughout daylight hours. During their migrations, they tend to fly overnight and then feed and rest during the day, so will tend to be among the earliest visitors of the day to backyard feeding stations.
Baltimore Oriole eating grape jelly from a bird feeder
In winter, Baltimore orioles eat fruit and nectar, as well as some insects. Earlier in the fall, fruit provides the mainstay of an oriole’s diet, with ripe, seasonal fruit such as blackberries, mulberries, and raspberries being especially favored.
The large volume of fruits eaten in the fall provides a high sugar content, which is then converted into fat reserves ahead of the migration to overwintering grounds.
The summer diet of Baltimore orioles consists mainly of caterpillars, spiders, larvae and small insects. Caterpillars are a particular favorite, especially orchard tent caterpillars and forest tent caterpillars.
This noticeable increase in the intake of insects at this time of year is directly tied to the breeding season of Baltimore orioles, which lasts from July to late August, when there is a demand for providing a protein-rich diet to newly hatched chicks.
A perched male Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore orioles have an unusual way of eating, both when it comes to prepping caterpillars so they are ready to eat and also when eating fruit so as to gain as much juice as possible.
Some tent caterpillar varieties are unappealing to many bird species because they are covered in dense bristles. Baltimore orioles bash these hairy caterpillars against a branch until the outer layer of spines is removed, making them safe and easier to eat.
The “gaping” method of tackling fruit practiced by Baltiomore orioles involves stabbing at a piece of fruit with a closed beak. The beak is then opened while still stuck in the fruit’s flesh, enabling the bird to drink the nectar with relative ease.
In the initial days after hatching, Baltimore oriole chicks are fed regurgitated insects by their parents. They gradually progress to larger larvae such as caterpillars and mealworms and small fruits, such as berries, that are brought to the nest.
A female Baltimore Oriole feeding juveniles
Orange halves, grape jelly, and ripe berries are irresistible to Baltimore orioles. Later in the year, during breeding season, a supply of mealworms will be readily taken from a feeder in order to feed any newly hatched chicks.
Baltimore orioles are particularly partial to nectar from flowers and fresh juice from berries and the flesh of fruit they find at backyard feeders. They are regular visitors to hummingbird feeders, where they are attracted to the sweet sugar water mix.
The best way to attract Baltimore orioles to your yard is by being prepared ahead of time, and putting a suitably stocked feeding platform in place in early spring to ensure they don’t get settled elsewhere first.
In early spring, oranges should be offered, but as the year progresses, providing a supply of mealworms will ensure orioles continue to visit.
Berry-bearing shrubs, including mulberries, raspberries, blackberries, serviceberries, elderberries, blueberries, and huckleberries, will entice Baltimore orioles. Flowers rich in nectar, such as honeysuckle, petunias, trumpet creeper, and bleeding hearts, also make for an oriole-friendly environment.
Running water and nearby shelter in oak, elm, maple, or sycamore trees also promote an environment that will get the seal of approval from your neighborhood Baltimore orioles.
Baltimore Oriole drinking nectar from spring blossom
Unlike many birds you will see in your backyard, Baltimore orioles will not eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists solely of fruits, nectar, and at some times of the year caterpillars, mealworms and insects.
During the breeding season, Baltimore orioles forage for insects and invertebrates, including mealworms. Nestlings are fed on a diet of insects, caterpillars, and other larvae in the initial period after hatching. Both dried and live mealworms are suitable.
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