Orioles: Lots to Learn
oriole has mastered a LOT of important skills.
Photo courtesy of Chandler Robbins
Baby orioles spend most of their time searching for food and eating as they
grow independent. The baby orioles develop a keen eye for movement, which
helps them to notice caterpillars and other tasty insects and spiders. They
also get good at recognizing berries and fruits. It doesn't take long to
learn which ones are sweet and which taste sour or bitter. But they won't
have to learn everything the hard way. They hang out with their families
and start associating with other orioles in small flocks. Experienced birds
head off to the yummiest fruit trees, and the younger ones follow.
During the night, young orioles mostly sleep. But sometimes they sit wide
awake on their branches, looking at the sky. What are they thinking about?
We don't know, but we do know that they look at the stars. They notice
a very important thing: Most of the stars seem to move in the sky, but
the north star holds still. This important knowledge will help them navigate
days grow shorter in August, the birds get restless. After napping a bit
at sundown, they'll suddenly wake up and head south, flying high enough
that they won't bonk into hills and trees in the dark. After a night of
migrating, they'll be extra hungry in the morning! Autumn days are filled
with eating and resting, and sometimes making low flights in the right
direction (south) as they wend their way between feeding trees.
Sadly, most of this year's babies won't be around next year to see their
first birthday. MANY things can kill an oriole:
- Many birds
get their heads caught in horsehair or other nesting fibers that strangle
them while building a nest.
- At least
one Baltimore Oriole was electrocuted when perched on an electrical
sometimes die by flying accidentally into communications towers during
- Many are
killed by flying into windows because they see trees and sky reflected
and don't realize the glass is a barrier.
are also attacked and eaten by Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks,
Goshawks, Merlins, American Kestrels, and Peregrine Falcons.
Long to Live?
Orioles that pay close attention to slight movements not only get the
most food, but also will be most likely to detect and escape from predators.
Of those, the birds that are smart enough to figure out the dangers of
windows and towers will be the ones most likely to live a full year. And
birds that do live a full year suddenly have a much longer life expectancy.
The oldest known wild Baltimore Oriole wearing a band on its leg was re-found
when it was at least 11 years and 7 months old. And the oldest banded
Bullock's Oriole on record lived 6 years, 1 month. Does this mean Baltimore
Orioles live five years longer than Bullock's Orioles? Nope! Only about
1% of all banded birds are ever found again. Many of these are not trapped
alive. Instead, they're mostly found dead at windows, under communications
towers, and near roads. That means 99% of all orioles are never caught
again. This includes many that have probably lived longer than either
of the record-setting Bullocks or Baltimore Orioles reported. To learn
more about bird banding and what it teaches us about birds, see:
YOU are a young oriole, starting out on your own in the big world. Which
would you be—a Bullock's Oriole or a Baltimore Oriole? Why? (Think
about their range maps and what you've learned in other Journey North
reports.) What would be the best things about your days? The worst?
The scariest? Would you love flying, or do you think it would get boring?