Baltimore orioles are summer residents throughout much of Minnesota.

Flame-orange on the bottom and largely black above, the male is quite conspicuous. These colors caught the attention of early European settlers in Maryland who named the bird in honor of George Calvert, Lord Baltimore (his title), an early colonizer there. Orange and black were his family colors.

Female orioles are a paler orange-yellow and brown. These birds nest in June and spend their Minnesota months feeding on caterpillars from trees and shrubs. They also eat beetles, ants, grasshoppers, aphids and many more insects, plus fruits such as wild cherries and serviceberries. Flowers are probed for nectar. Nearly all Baltimore orioles will leave by the first few days of September to winter in Central America. They are night migrators.

Orioles are attracted by several types of foods. Sugar water, orange halves and other cut-up fresh fruits, jelly, and mealworms all do the trick. Grape jelly is probably best because its taste is similar to the dark, ripe fruit that attracts them. The classic hummingbird recipe of one part white sugar dissolved in four parts water is attractive, too, but they need sugar water feeders with larger ports and perches.

An entry from my nature notebook dated Aug. 20, 1978, reads, in part:

“Al and Esther Zander of Minnetonka have been putting grape jelly out for orioles since the birds first arrived May 4. Now the birds are consuming six pounds of grape jelly per day. Al has counted as many as 30 orioles at one time.”


Jim Gilbert was a naturalist for 50 years.