The National Wildlife Federation

Donate Donate

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Icterus galbula

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Bird

Description

Adult male Baltimore orioles have striking coloration and are easily recognized by the brilliant orange plumage on their undersides and shoulders. The male bird's head and beak are black, and its wings are black with a white bar running across. Females and young males are less striking in appearance, with yellowish-orange and dark gray or brown plumage. Both males and females have long legs and sharp beaks. Baltimore orioles are six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) in length with a wingspan of 9 to 12 inches (23 to 30 centimeters).

Range

For at least part of the year, Baltimore orioles can be seen in the eastern United States and as far west as Montana. Migrating populations head south during the late summer to early fall and stay in the Southeast U.S., Central America, or South America until April.

Their preferred habitat is open deciduous woodlands. Baltimore orioles also do quite well in community parks and suburban backyards. They forage in the treetops and commonly build nests in American elms, cottonwoods, and maples. Eggs and young birds are especially vulnerable to predators such as squirrels, owls, large birds, and domestic cats. Adults put up a fight by sounding alarm calls and mobbing predators.

Diet

Baltimore orioles primarily eat insects in the summer, but switch to nectar and fruit in the fall, preferring to eat dark-colored fruits. Some farmers consider them pests—however, Baltimore orioles eat lots of caterpillar larvae that cause damage to trees if their numbers aren’t kept in check, so they do more good than harm.

Life History

Males court females with songs and visual displays. An interested female responds by fluttering her wings and calling back to him. The female bird then builds her nest in her partner’s territory. The nest of the Baltimore oriole is quite extraordinary—it's sock-shaped, woven with a number of materials, and hangs from a slender tree branch. These hanging nests are built many feet above the ground and must be sturdily built to support the weight of the three to seven eggs a female will lay. After hatching, the young are fed by their parents for about two weeks, until they leave the nest. Baltimore orioles can live up to 11 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.

Conservation

Overall, Baltimore oriole numbers are stable. There is a small decline to their population in the eastern United States, but this is compensated for by an increase in the western part of their range. These birds are threatened by deforestation and pesticide use on trees. They can easily be enticed into a backyard with native fruit and nectar-producing plants or hanging feeders of sugar water.

Fun Fact

The Baltimore oriole was named because its coloring is similar to the colors on the heraldic crest of Lord Baltimore.

Sources

Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

National Geographic

NatureServe Explorer

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Get Involved

   Please leave this field empty

Happening Near You

You don't have to travel far to join us for an event. Attend an upcoming event with one of our regional centers or affiliates.

Learn More