Birds – Baltimore Oriole

(Icterus galbula) Oriole and Blackbird family


Length—7 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.

Male—Head, throat, upper part of back glossy black. Wings black, with white spots and edgings. Tail-quills black, with yellow markings on the tips. Everywhere else orange, shading into flame.

Female—Yellowish olive. Wings dark brown, and quills margined with white. Tail yellowish brown, with obscure, dusky bars.

Range—The whole United States. Most numerous in Eastern States below 55° north latitude.

Migrations—Early May. Middle of September. Common summer resident.

A flash of fire through the air; a rich, high, whistled song floating in the wake of the feathered meteor: the Baltimore oriole cannot be mistaken. When the orchards are in blossom he arrives in full plumage and song, and awaits the coming of the female birds, that travel northward more leisurely in flocks. He is decidedly in evidence. No foliage is dense enough to hide his brilliancy; his temper, quite as fiery as his feathers, leads him into noisy quarrels, and his insistent song with its martial, interrogative notes becomes almost tiresome until he is happily mated and family cares check his enthusiasm.

Among the best architects in the world is his plain but energetic mate. Gracefully swung from a high branch of some tall tree, the nest is woven with exquisite skill into a long, flexible pouch that rain cannot penetrate, nor wind shake from its horse-hair moorings. Bits of string, threads of silk, and sometimes yarn of the gayest colors, if laid about the shrubbery in the garden, will be quickly interwoven with the shreds of bark and milk-weed stalks that the bird has found afield. The shape of the nest often differs, because in unsettled regions, where hawks abound, it is necessary to make it deeper than seven inches (the customary depth when it is built near the homes of men), and to partly close it at the top to conceal the sitting bird. From four to six whitish eggs, scrawled over with black-brown, are hatched by the mother oriole, and most jealously guarded by her now truly domesticated mate.

The number of grubs, worms, flies, caterpillars, and even cocoons, that go to satisfy the hunger of a family of orioles in a day, might indicate, if it could be computed, the great value these birds are about our homes, aside from the good cheer they bring.

There is a popular tradition about the naming of this gorgeous bird: When George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, worn out and discouraged by various hardships in his Newfoundland colony, decided to visit Virginia in 1628, he wrote that nothing in the Chesapeake country so impressed him as the myriads of birds in its woods. But the song and color of the oriole particularly cheered and delighted him, and orange and black became the heraldic colors of the first lords proprietors of Maryland.