When a boy oriole wants to impress a girl oriole, he bows before her, sings loudly and fans his tail out. Photo: David Noel Edwards

Orioles in the Berkshires: An embarrassment of riches

Local orioles are hard to miss, even when they streak by your window and all you see is an orange blur.

Canaan, N.Y. — Every spring in early May, migrating Baltimore orioles make their first appearance in the Berkshire Hills within a few days of the first hummingbirds. In fact, sometimes the two species arrive minutes apart, along with the season’s very first violets, on the very first balmy day of May. It’s an embarrassment of riches that people in this area have learned to live with.

Icterus galbula, the Baltimore oriole, is not a true oriole.* It is actually a type of blackbird, but with the male’s black head and back eclipsed by blazing orange on the breast and belly. Local orioles are hard to miss, even when they streak by your window and all you see is an orange blur. (If the color orange could use a bit of rehabilitation these days, the Baltimore oriole reminds us that orange isn’t only for prison garb and deranged despots.)

If you want to see orioles, you’ll have to lure them down out of the trees with something sweet. If you lack a proper oriole feeder, orange halves will suffice, as will grape jelly. But a large part of their diet consists of insects, which you can sometimes see the birds chasing and devouring up in the highest branches of tall trees.

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*True orioles are Old World birds.

Female orioles do all of the nest building. Photo: David Noel Edwards