While serving as ecotour hosts for a Twin Cities group visiting Costa Rica a number of years ago, my wife, Sandy, and I, and our group, were happy to see Baltimore orioles there in the wintering territory.

Orioles do not reproduce in their Central America winter home, but they do return to Minnesota and other parts of the eastern United States for the spring-into-summer nesting season.

Many of us consider May 1 to be “Oriole Day,” as quite often that’s the first day a few are seen in southern Minnesota. They are night migrants and arrive in numbers the first two weeks of May. The Baltimore orioles have a strong homing instinct and often return year after year to nest in the same yard and even the same tree. Other common backyard birds returning around the first of May are the house wren, ruby-throated hummingbird and the rose-breasted grosbeak.

A fantastic songster, the Baltimore oriole’s cheerful series of whistles and chattering is often heard before it’s seen. They’re easily attracted to feeders offering grape jelly, orange halves or sugar water. Mix the jelly half and half with water using an eggbeater, then pour it into small glass jars or bowls set out in feeders. These orioles are summer residents throughout the state. They feed on insects but also eat wild fruits. They may probe flowers for nectar.

Flaming-orange below and largely black above, the male is conspicuous as it searches for food. These colors caught the attention of early European settlers in Maryland who named the bird in honor of George Calvert, aka Lord Baltimore, an early colonizer there. Orange and black were his family colors. Females are a paler yellow-orange and gray-brown.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.