A Baltimore Oriole Who Didn’t Migrate

Last Updated on December 20, 2020 by Nancie

Juvenile Male Baltimore Oriole on Feeder
Juvenile Male Baltimore Oriole On Feeder

It is January in Maryland and I have a Baltimore Oriole hanging out in my back yard. Most orioles migrate south in the winter, although each year a very rare few stick it out through the Mid-Atlantic winter and don’t migrate. A juvenile male, this Baltimore Oriole showed up in my yard on December 23rd as I was cooking for our upcoming Christmas Eve celebration. I wondered why this Baltimore Oriole didn’t migrate and what in the world it could be eating. He’s come by at least daily ever since. While I still don’t know why he didn’t migrate with the rest, I have learned of at least some of this oriole’s unusual winter diet.

While I live just south of Baltimore, Baltimore Orioles are not usually found in my yard. Even in the warmer months when they are typically found in Maryland, Baltimore Orioles are often not easy to see, as they typically hang out high in the tree tops. I’ve put out orange halves at times over the years, but never had an oriole visit my feeders until now. But this Baltimore Oriole not only didn’t migrate, he also doesn’t eat oranges!

Male Juvenile Baltimore Oriole in Safflower Filled Feeder
Male Juvenile Baltimore Oriole in Safflower Filled Feeder

Baltimore Oriole Eating Safflower

I’ve watched this oriole almost every day for the past month. Most days he shows up for a little while a couple of times. Lately, as it has gotten colder, he’s been spending longer stretches of time here.

I have four platform feeders in the back yard, two mounted on poles and two hanging from a pole. All of these feeders are full of only safflower seed. The oriole begins at one of the farther feeders, poking through the seed, then moves on to the next, cycling through the four feeders and the ground underneath it.

Male Juvenile Baltimore Oriole in Safflower Filled Feeder
Male Juvenile Baltimore Oriole in Safflower Filled Feeder

But what is he eating? If you look up orioles in your field guide, online bird sites or Feederwatch’s interactive Food and Feeder Preferences guide, you will learn that Baltimore Orioles mostly eat insects and fruit. Suggestions for luring one to your feeders revolve around offering fruit, sugar water or suet. Not a word is said about seed and I suspect that their bills aren’t really made for seed eating. This little guy isn’t cracking open his own seed. Instead his strategy is to look for broken bits of seed, cast off by other birds.

Orange and Jelly
Orange and Jelly

Offering the Baltimore Oriole Fruit

Now, I know what orioles are “supposed” to eat and so I’ve tried to help him out. I’ve tried putting out a fresh orange half. Not interested. Banana? Nope. A slice of apple? No. Fresh blueberries and raspberries? Not even a nibble. I tried strawberry preserves, orange marmalade and grape jelly. He seems blissfully unaware that any of these are foods he might like or use for energy.

I speculate that because this oriole is young and didn’t migrate to the tropics as most of his species does in the winter, he may never have seen an orange or a banana. And the jellies might also not look like food. But a raspberry? Surely? Nope.

Jelly and an Oriole Fruit and Jelly Feeder
Jelly and an Oriole Fruit and Jelly Feeder

Yesterday I went to my local bird store to buy a small bag of Nutra-Saf seed, thinking that as this juvenile oriole seems to be focused on eating safflower seed, maybe the thinner hulled Nutra-Saf version might be easier for him to manage on his own. I also bought a new oriole feeder with a dish for jelly and coiled wire for mounting fruit on. So far I haven’t seen this oriole give any of these offerings the slightest bit of interest. Sigh.

Baltimore Oriole Eating Sunflower Seed in a Cage Feeder
Baltimore Oriole Eating Sunflower Seed in a Cage Feeder

Baltimore Oriole Eating Sunflower

BUT! This morning I looked out the window and watched the Baltimore Oriole figure out how to slip through the wire openings of one of the nearer Woodlink cage feeders where I offer sunflower hearts to small birds. Once inside, he sat for quite a while eating sunflower seed!

Oriole Under Feeder
Oriole Under Feeder

What Birds are “Supposed” to Eat

It just goes to remind me (once again) that birds will eat things they are not “supposed” to eat if they are hungry enough. I don’t know if this non-migrating Baltimore Oriole will thrive on a winter diet of seed, but he’s made it through the past month. Through watching other birds, he is working things out and trying new things. I still have hope that at some point he’ll try the fruit.

2020 Update: After about a month, this Baltimore Oriole disappeared and I haven’t seen him since. My hope is that he flew south but I have no way of knowing. If you have an Oriole at your winter feeder, do check out the comments below where several bird watchers have shared the foods they have tried to help get Orioles at their feeders through the winter.

Nancie

Learn More About Baltimore Orioles

All About Birds: Baltimore Oriole

Audubon: Baltimore Oriole

Feederwatch Food & Feeder Preferences Interactive

Journey North: Baltimore Oriole


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21 thoughts on “A Baltimore Oriole Who Didn’t Migrate

  1. Did your oriole survive the winter. I am in Eastern Ohio about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh and I have an Oriole. I first saw him on Dec 1 2020. I put out jelly and he has been eating it as well as picking through the seed for sunflower hearts and bits of shelled peanuts. I have tried mealworms since I know they like insects but so far he isn’t interested.

    1. Hi Michelle,
      I am not sure to be honest. He hung around my feeders for about a month. Then he disappeared. My hope is that he decided to continue south where it is warmer, but I really don’t know. The Oriole I had didn’t seem interested in the jelly or fruit I put out, but was eating the sunflower hearts. They are also supposed to eat suet although the one here didn’t seem to eat it.
      Hope your Oriole does well,
      Nancie

    2. I am in south central New Jersey and I have a pair of Orioles who have been here for a week now. They eat from my tube feeder and have just started eating a homemade blend of cherry, strawberry and blackberry jelly.
      I put out dried mealworms for them but they are not interested. They’re also not interested in Craisins. I am concerned about them in the colder months. I had a juvenile male here late February – April who I fed the same way. He disappeared after April. Will they eat shelled sunflower seeds?

      1. Hi Ellen,
        The one that came to my feeders last year seemed to be poking around in the safflower seed and was definitely eating the sunflower hearts without the shell. The guy I had wasn’t interested in the (purchased) grape jelly I offered. I’m glad your are enjoying your homemade blend!

        It is interesting that some Orioles do seem to stay behind each year when the other migrate. I wish I understood why. I do wonder if Orioles are reacting to our feeders and sticking around because there is food to be found there. If they can survive the winter, avoiding an energy taxing migration might have benefits. Maybe?
        Nancie

  2. Hi Michelle. It’s Pam and Ives. We are in central New Jersey and recently have 2 male Orioles that did not migrate. Appeared around late November. We see them everyday, and they eat oranges, grape jelly, and we have seen them eat at the finch feeder and the woodpecker feeder.

    We are worried about real winter – January and February when the snow and cold will be here. But so far so good.

  3. I’m in Montgomery Village, MD and I’ve tried to attract Orioles in the summer before with no results. I had one come and grab some peanut chips from a feeder today in the snow. He wasn’t a juvenile either. I just put out some grape jam and a mandarin orange cut in half hoping he comes back if he’s staying in the area and needs food.

    1. Hi Megan,
      This was my experience too. My guess is that the local Orioles probably find plenty to eat in the area in the summer and may not really need to come to our feeders. Hunting for food in the winter is obviously more challenging, so I think if they are hungry they are willing to come and see what we have to offer. I really don’t know why most orioles (at least in this area) tend to migrate south but some don’t.
      Nancie

  4. Hi Nancie and everyone,
    We live on Mason’s Island in Mystic CT and always have a bunch of Baltimore Orioles all summer at our Oriole feeders. The males leave in August and the females and young usually follow in September. This year is different. We still have 3 females. There were 4 at the beginning of December, but we’ve only seen 3 since December 13. They are surviving on grape jelly and red grapes, ours have never been fond of oranges. Lately, I’ve seen one on a tube feeder eating hulled sunflower seed. This is a first for us. Last night we had our first nor’easter and have a foot of snow. It was wild all night with temperatures in the 20’s, but they were chattering for food as we shoveled out this morning. The temperatures will be dropping into the teens over the next couple of days so I fear for them. We keep hoping they’ll fly south during the night. I’m so glad to have found your postings to know we’re not alone is this misadventure. We’ll add some peanut hearts and mealworms to their feeder and maybe peanut butter, just in case it will help them. I just don’t know how to keep them warm at this point.

    1. Hi Christie,
      I know the feeling. I kept hoping the little guy at my feeders would head south too. I think all we can do is what you are doing: try to help them out by offering foods they might eat and hope they make it. Maybe the cold weather will give them a nudge to head south.
      Nancie

  5. Hi again,
    I put out freeze dried meal worms and they went for them, I’ve had to refill the dish twice. The trick to feeding the worms is to rehydrate them first by soaking them in warm water for 15-20 minutes. The other thing I learned several years ago, is our Orioles prefer the grape jelly with corn syrup, they refused the all fruit grape jelly even though I was sure it would be better for them. Thanks for the help on this. We’ll see what happens when the temperatures go down to 15 tonight.

    1. Thank you for advice. It’s 12 degrees this morning in New Jersey and all three are out early with the other birds. We bought some dried meal worms and are soaking them. We put out more oranges and jelly. Every night they make it is kind of a miracle. So we will see.

    2. Hi Christie,
      Interesting. I can see how re-hydrating the mealworms might make them more appealing. I wonder if they are preferring the corn syrup version of the jelly because there might be a different level of sugar for energy? It does seem that if one type doesn’t appeal to them that it is definitely worth experimenting with another.
      Thanks!
      Nancie

  6. Good Morning,
    I work at a Wild Birds Unlimited store in Allentown,Pa and I have had a couple of customers recently report that they too have Baltimore Orioles at their feeders still. Both customers have told me that the Orioles are eating their bark butter and bark butter bits which are a spreadable suet and a suet nugget. I have also been told they are eating from their seed cylinders more than likely picking out the hulled sunflower chips. It does make sense for them to be eating these types of things because they are higher in fat and protein which birds need in order to survive the long winter nights. I stumbled across this page and thought I would let you all know. I hope it helps. I also know from experience that Baltimore Orioles love our fruit cake suet.

    1. Will the orioles eat the suet out of a suet feeder? And what is bark butter and bark butter bits? I would like to keep my poor orioles alive this winter and they don’t seem interested in rehydrated mealworms. I’m also having a problem with squirrels who have discovered the jelly, so I now need to purchase a proper oriole jelly feeder.

      1. Hi Ellen,
        When the oriole visited my yard last winter, I never saw him get onto the upside-down suet feeders. I was not using regular traditional cage feeders so I can’t say if they will use those. The oriole I saw got into the platform feeders regularly and (surprisingly to me) eventually into a Woodlink cage feeder to eat seed.

        From Melanie’s comment, it sounds like the Bark Butter is a spreadable version of suet that you could smear on bark or other surfaces. If you have squirrels, you’d want to try to find a surface that squirrels can’t get to or they will probably get into it. The Wild Birds Unlimited website does show that there is a Hot Pepper version that might deter squirrels though. (I’ve found that my local squirrels will mostly avoid hot pepper except when they are really hungry.) The Bark Bits are another WBU product that seems to be small bits of suet that can be offered in platform feeder or probably other feeders. I’ve never tried either of these products myself, although they sound interesting.

        I’ve seen various types of birds pick up bits of suet from the ground before. So in the past, I’ve tried cutting a regular suet block into a smaller chunk or chunks to put into a platform feeder, but I never saw any interest from any of the birds when I tried it. Not sure why. I have seen that sometimes some birds aren’t that experimental and don’t always try something that we humans think they might like. Or maybe it was just something about the way I was offering it.
        Nancie

  7. We, too, have had a pair of Orioles for 4 weeks now. I was surprised to see them eating from the tube feeder and woodpecker feeder. Our tube feeder is filled with No-Mess (no shells) bird seed from WBU. The woodpecker feeder is filled with Bark Butter Bits (the kind w/o mealworms and NOT the hot pepper version) from WBU. We eventually put out oranges…they eat those as well. I’ve yet to see them eat shelled peanuts. I’m not sure their beaks can break it down to eatable bits.

  8. Hello again,
    I have an Oriole feeder that has 2 upright posts in the base that are designed for oranges, which ours absolutely refuse to eat for some reason. In the past I’ve hollowed out the oranges and used them for additional jelly, but we’re not going through 2 lbs a day with just 4 birds, so I’ve made a small hole in the bottom of a shallow plastic condiment cup and mounted one on each post. I put the re-hydrated meal worms in one and some Lyric Fine Tunes Blend (online) in the other. It is a blend of tiny peanut hearts, sunflower chips, pumpkin seed chips and other small bits suitable for smaller beaks. They seem to go for it and I find bits splashed into the grape jelly. Of course the Chickadees have found it too and so now it is an Oriole/Chickadee feeder.

    I liked Melanie’s suggestion and rigged up a piece of fruit cake suet, but no interest and it scared them off. Like Nancie said, I’m not sure if our birds are not daring enough to try it or maybe it was my presentation. I’ll try dicing it up into bits, but not sure where to put it with all the other offerings at this point. Maybe mix it into the Fine Tunes Blend and see what happens.

    It looks like our 4 birds have no intention of migrating at this point. The Audubon birders visited yesterday to include them in the annual count. Here on the coast, the temperatures have been unusually mild overall, but we’ve had teens and 20’s at night and of course one big Nor’easter which didn’t seem to make them reconsider. Other than that, we’ve been lucky to just have rain events so far.

    Happy New Year to all. Thanks to Nancie for providing this forum and for the advice. It will be interesting to know if all of these birds make it until Spring.
    Christie

    1. Hi Christie,
      I’m happy that I can provide a spot where we can share our experiences. Hoping for a mild winter to help these guys out!
      Nancie

  9. Hi Nancie and commenters, I’m in Toronto (Canada) and have had a Baltimore Oriole visiting my feeders since about November 15, 2020, when I spotted her eating at a suet cage. As of today (January 5, 2021), she’s still coming around, but the only thing she eats now are live mealworms and peanuts which she “grates” with with beak into tiny pieces. She no longer eats suet, and doesn’t seem interested in chopped dried cranberries, shelled sunflower seeds, jelly or fruit. (The Orioles did go crazy for oranges and grape jelly all summer. Now this one seems only interested in fats and proteins, which makes perfect sense given that she will need to really fatten up in order to survive our very cold winters.) She has a feeder and heated bird bath of her own, right up against my dining room window. I’ve posted several videos of this. Here’s one: https://youtu.be/XL07Fs8aMco . I’d really love to hear updates from anyone who continues to see Orioles in northern areas, so I’m hoping people will post information in the upcoming weeks (and hopefully months).

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