Canaan, N.Y. — Each year, Baltimore orioles arrive in the vicinity of Queechy Lake on the third day of May (that would be today, as of this writing). They travel from their wintering grounds in Central America, Florida and the northern tip of South America to their northern breeding areas that range well into Canada, not far from the Arctic Circle. Males tend to arrive ahead of the females to establish (or, more commonly, re-establish) their local territories. So in the early days of May, the birds spend much of their time chattering at would-be rivals and chasing each other around.
This morning the noisy birds were right on time and there was no mistaking their presence. Some of them pass — quickly, quietly and largely unseen — through the Berkshires on their way north. Of course, they arrive earlier south of here (e.g., a Baltimore oriole was sighted Jan. 22 in Atlanta, Georgia).
Today, reports of the season’s first Baltimore orioles came from Ontario, Canada; Buffalo; Antioch, Illinois; and about 40 other locations in the United States and Canada. Why do we care when they arrive? Because Baltimore orioles are so impossibly beautiful, especially the adult males. And why do the birds migrate? Because the extra daylight hours in the north give them more time each day to forage for food. And they need plenty of it to make babies.
Serious bird enthusiasts will delight in the dozens of first-oriole-sighting records posted here.
If you’d like to see orioles in your own yard, then offer them orange halves, which they can detect easily from long distances. But sometimes they seem more interested in hummingbird feeders.