Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Bullock’s oriole.
An inhabitant of both open woodlands and cottonwood galleries along streams, this striking bird is a hard one to forget. Mature males are a bright orange color with a black chin and distinct black line through their eyes. Look for a clean white patch on the wing contrasting their otherwise black flight feathers. Females are less flashy, with a more yellow-orange casting on the head and gray-white belly. Juveniles oftentimes mimic the female plumage for the first year, but males don the black head markings and eventually molt into bright orange breeding plumage in their second spring.
Their elaborate courtship displays often involve a hopping dance from branch to branch, bowing as the males attempt to attract a mate. Oriole nests are typically a beautiful woven sack made of grasses, other fine fibers and lining of cottonwood seed or other soft material. One may find these locally in either a mature oak grove or overhanging a river dangling from a cottonwood branch. Once established, the female will typically sing elaborate songs as the male flies locally to defend the nest and territory from other potential nest offenders. Oriole songs are complicated, oftentimes seemingly presented as a stitched-together series of different songs varying in pitch and intention.
Some folks’ first occurrence with a Bullock’s oriole is when they catch something quite a bit bigger than a hummingbird sourcing nectar from their feeder. These birds will oftentimes capitalize on sugar-rich sources of food upon arrival from spring migration.
They utilize a means of feeding called “gaping,” whether with big caterpillars or big-bodied fruits, where they drill their fine bills into soft flesh and pry open the food source for further extraction. Yum. Truly a wide-foraging species, these birds won’t hesitate to eat most everything, from insects to seeds to flower nectar.
Bullock’s orioles spend a great percentage of their time in Mexico and will begin fall migration for points south soon.
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