Despite their bright orange plumage, Baltimore orioles may not be easy to spot. These relatives of yellow-headed and red-wing blackbirds prefer high branches in densely wooded areas over open space like prairies. They tend to stay hidden, so you’re more likely to hear these birds than see them. They have a very rich, operatic, liquid-sounding whistling song, according to Abby Dean, a naturalist at Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center in Oak Brook. "It really stands out," she said.
Smaller and more slender than an American Robin, Baltimore orioles are medium-sized, sturdy-bodied songbirds with thick necks and long legs. Look for their long, thick-based, pointed bills, a hallmark of the blackbird family they belong to.
They feed high in trees, searching leaves and small branches for insects, flowers and fruit. They may also be spotted lower down, plucking fruit from vines and bushes or sipping from hummingbird feeders.
They live high in leafy deciduous trees, but not in deep forests. They can be found in open woodland, forest edge, orchards and stands of trees along rivers, in parks and in backyards.
You might be able to attract them to your backyard by setting out slices of oranges and even grape jelly, Dean said. They are particularly attracted to dark, rich-colored fruits and have been known to frequent mulberry, serviceberry and even crabapple trees. They use their sharp, pointed bill to stab fruit and then use their tongues to lick up the juice, a practice called “gaping.”
Baltimore orioles build woven nests that resemble a hanging sack or tube. The female will gather various fibers and slowly weave them in and out to create a series of knots in the form of a low-hanging sack or tube. Sometimes they use unnatural brightly colored strings which make them easier to spot.
Fullersburg Woods in Oak Brook boasts a very healthy population of Baltimore orioles and is a great place to see them, Dean said.