Baltimore & Orchard Orioles

Oriole © Tom Murray
© Tom Murray

Orioles are colorful, vocal members of the blackbird family, represented in Massachusetts by two species: the Baltimore oriole and the orchard oriole. The bold patterning of black and yellow-orange sported by male Baltimore orioles reminded early observers of the black and gold heraldry of Lord Baltimore, hence the species’ common name. These vibrant birds may visit a backyard or park near you during the warmer months of the year.

Identification

Baltimore orioles are slightly smaller than robins (just under 9” from bill to tail tip). Males have black heads, backs, and wings but show bright orange below and on their tails. Females and young birds can be quite a bit drabber about the head, and may show pale orange, yellow, or even simply tan below. Both sexes have strong white wing-bars on dark wings and the sharp, pointed bills typical of the blackbird family. The less-common orchard oriole is smaller, and the male trades the Baltimore oriole’s bright orange for a deep brownish red.

Behavior

Baltimore orioles love fruit, and can sometimes be enticed to visit backyard feeders by fresh fruit or berries. They build unique hanging nests in mature trees near parks, yards, farm fields, or other open areas—you will seldom encounter a Baltimore oriole in the depths of the forest. Orchard orioles favor young woods (or orchards!) at the forest’s edge, and are less commonly encountered in yards or parks.

oriole © Bruce Hauck
© Bruce Hauck

The song of the male Baltimore oriole is a loud caroling, somewhat reminiscent of robin song but with harsh call notes interspersed. Like most blackbirds, orioles in our area usually fly south for the winter, but a few birds may survive the winter in Massachusetts when the weather is not too severe and fruit is available.

Status

Baltimore orioles are still common and widespread during the warmer months in Massachusetts, but Breeding Bird Survey numbers indicate that this species may be undergoing a quiet decline. Likewise, the numbers of winter orioles reported by the Christmas Bird Count have been declining for several years. Learn more in our Breeding Bird Atlas 2

By contrast, orchard orioles are uncommonly encountered, but they are becoming more abundant and widespread in Massachusetts, especially in the eastern part of the state and the Connecticut River Valley. Learn more in our Breeding Bird Atlas 2

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