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Bird Feature: Dark-eyed Junco (Slate colored)

Bird Feature: Dark-eyed Junco (Slate colored)

Identifying Dark-eyed Juncos (Slate colored):

Ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 inches in length, this medium-sized sparrow has a rounded head with a short, stout bill and a prominent long tail. With the simplest coloring in the Junco family, the Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco has dark gray covering the back, face, and chest with a white underside and outer tail feathers. A short pink bill brightens the face of this round bird.

dark eyed junco

Birds of the ground, Dark-eyed Juncos are typically seen hopping around the bases of shrubs and trees. They will often venture out onto lawns, especially beneath bird feeders, looking for fallen seeds. 

Slate-colored Juncos have the widest habitat range. In summer, this range expands across most of Canada and Alaska, stretching south into the northeastern United States as far south as Georgia. In the winter months, the range shifts from southern Canada to the Gulf states, mostly east of the Rockies. Juncos are often found in coniferous forests but can be found in deciduous forests as well. In winter months they can be found in a wider variety of habitats, including open woodlands, parks, fields, and gardens since food sources become more scarce.

Attracting Dark-eyed Juncos to Your Feeder:

Dark-eyed Juncos mainly eat seeds, with buckwheat, sorrel, chickweed, and lamb's quarters making up around 75% of their diet. Studies show feeders only account for roughly a quarter of a wild bird's diet, so incorporating these plants into your landscape can go a long way in attracting these birds. At feeders, all Dark-eyed Juncos prefer millet, but will also consume sunflower seeds.

As Dark-eyed Juncos do prefer to spend most of their time foraging on the ground, if it is an option, spreading some seed directly on the ground or even simply allowing the ground below your regular feeders to accumulate small amounts of discarded seed can help to attract these birds to your yard. Tray feeders that allow for a wide open feeding area can also be successful in attracting these birds. Tray feeders (sometimes called platform feeders) can be hung from a traditional shepherd's hook or can also be mounted closer to the ground, although doing so may encourage squirrels and other wildlife. 

Needing more energy and protein during breeding season, they will also expand their diets to include insects such as moths, butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, flies, wasps, and even ants. As always, we recommend limiting the use of broad-spectrum herbicides whenever possible to ensure these natural food sources are available.

dark eyed junco on platform feeder

Pictured: Dark-eyed Junco on Hanging Platform Feeder (Model# WWCF23)

Nesting:

Dark-eyed Juncos typically construct their nests in a depression on the ground or amid tangled roots. Occasionally juncos will nest above the ground on horizontal branches or in hanging ports or light fixtures, however it is much less common. After choosing a suitable site, the female uses her beak to weave nest materials together to frame her body. Materials used to construct the nest range from a fine lining of grass or pine needles to a more "typical" nest with twigs, leaves, moss, grass, and hair depending on the nest location; nests directly on the ground tend to have less materials included in the frame.

Nests measure anywhere from 3 to 5.5 inches across and 1.6 to 2.8 inches deep when completed, roughly 3-7 days after construction begins. Eggs are roughly 0.8 inch in length and 0.6 inch wide and color can range from white to gray or pale blue or green with a dusting of brown speckles. Eggs typically hatch after around 12 days of incubation and the young will fledge in an additional 10-13 days.

Pairs can have between 1-3 broods per year depending on weather and location. Each clutch typically consists of 3-6 eggs.

Similar species:

The Dark-eyed Junco has a vast range of geographic variation with a total of 15 described races. Of these, six forms are fairly easily recognizable in the field. Two widespread forms of the Dark-eyed Junco are that of the "slate-colored", found in the eastern Unites States and most of Canada and the "Oregon", found across a large portion of the western United States. The "Oregon" junco has the typical Junco build with a dark hood, brown back and rust flanks. 

 Slate-colored versus Oregon Junco

 

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How to get rid of starlings and grackles at your bird feeder

How to get rid of starlings and grackles at your bird feeder

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing unwanted critters eating the seed that’s meant for your birds! Invasive species like starlings and grackles are notorious nuisances at backyard bird feeders. They can be aggressive, territorial, and have been known to empty out bird feeders in record time. Before you wave the white flag, try these tactics to discourage bully birds from your feeders so you can get back to birding!

Why are starlings invasive?

These boisterous birds are slightly smaller than a robin, with iridescent black glossy feathers speckled in brilliant white spots. They might even have an attractive appearance if they weren’t so troublesome! Brought over from Europe, starlings were intentionally released in Central Park, New York by ornithologists in the 1890s who reportedly wanted to introduce every bird species mentioned by Shakespeare in his works. Since then, we’ve discovered that starlings can wreak havoc on crops, are naturally aggressive towards other birds (even injuring or killing them), spread disease, and are a general disturbance to people with their loud shrieks. Mainly ground feeding birds, starlings will use bird feeders in an attempt to extract the seed and toss it to the ground to eat, emptying bird entire feeders in the process.

Why are grackles a nuisance?

grackle

Easily recognizable by their striking black plumage and iridescent bluish-purple feathers on their head, grackles are a medium to large-sized bird known for their intelligence and bold behavior. Commonly mistaken as invasive, grackles are native to North America, but have been deemed an agricultural pest for the damage they have caused to crops. Grackles are also aggressive in nature and can exhibit violent behavior towards smaller songbirds, raiding their nests and even killing adult birds, most of the time House Sparrows. Flocks of grackles can eat feeders clean in minutes, wasting your bird seed and discouraging your regular feeder visitors.

How to get rid of starlings and grackles at your bird feeder and birdhouse

While there is no single tried and true method to eliminate starlings or grackles from your bird feeders, with a little trial and error, you can discourage them from raiding your feeders with these bird feeder and birdseed modifications:

Feeder modifications

  • Tube feeders: Starlings and grackles are known for having long legs, and that can make perching on a tube bird feeder difficult. If they’ve taken over your feeders, try putting up a tube feeder and filling it with seed less preferred by starlings or grackles for the best chance at detracting them. See seed recommendations below.
  • Upside-down feeders: Starlings and grackles are both large, stocky birds who prefer feeding upright. If your suet feeder is being raided by starlings or grackles, try replacing it with an upside-down suet feeder. Woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches are expert fliers and agile climbers who will have no problem feeding upside down. Scaling up and down the sides of trees for food, they’ll often hang upside down on tree branches and tall weeds to find insects.


Note: Upside-down feeders have been a successful way to detract starlings and grackles for thousands of backyard birders. However, these birds are persistent and will sometimes put in the effort to learn how to feed upside down. If you’ve got stubborn starlings or grackles on your hands, we’d recommend trying out one of the other tactics on this list.

  • Low baffle: Starlings and grackles are reluctant to feed under coverings, especially if it’s difficult for them to navigate underneath. Try using a baffle suspended above your regular bird feeder to limit their access to your feeder.
  • Distract them with a decoy feeder: Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Try setting up an extra platform bird feeder away from your main bird feeding station and fill it up with a cheap seed blend for the less desirable critters in your yard. While they’re distracted by the easy access to seed, they should leave your main bird feeders alone for you and your songbirds to enjoy.
  • Temporarily remove feeders: If you notice a flock of starlings or grackles coming through your backyard, you may choose to temporarily remove your bird feeders until the flock has passed through and found another food source.

Bird feeders to detract grackles and starlings

Seed modifications

  • Safflower: Safflower is a thick-shelled seed that is high in protein and fat. Because of its thick shell, this seed is difficult for starlings and grackles to crack open. With cardinals, chickadees, doves, grosbeaks, and nuthatches attracted to safflower, it is your best chance to attract the widest variety of birds while eliminating nuisance birds.
  • Nyjer/Thistle: Nyjer seed (also referred to as Nyger or thistle), is a small, black seed high in oil content. Starlings and grackles have long, large beaks, making it difficult for them to feed on such small seed. Nyjer seed is most preferred by small songbirds – mainly finches. So if you’re looking to attract a wider variety of birds while excluding starlings and grackles, it might be best to choose another type of seed from this list.
  • Plain suet: Starlings and grackles are mainly attracted to the seed and fruit found in mixed blend suet. They will also feed on plain suet but will usually avoid it if there are other more appealing food sources around.
  • Avoid this seed: suet blends, seed blends, various types of sunflower seeds

Birdhouse modifications

  • Entry hole size: Starlings and grackles cannot fit through a hole with a diameter of 1 ½” or smaller. Look for wren houses that have entrance holes of 1 1/8” and bluebird houses that have entrance holes of 1 ½” (Eastern) or 1 9/16” (Mountain) to keep nuisance birds out. You can also purchase an aftermarket predator guard to affix to any existing birdhouse.

Note: Because of their native status, grackles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which means it is illegal to capture, injure or kill grackles or harm their eggs.

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Bird Feature: Northern Flicker

Bird Feature: Northern Flicker

Identifying Northern Flickers:

Northern Flickers are a fairly large woodpecker with unique coloration that varies slightly by geographic location. Measuring approximately 11.5 inches in length, flickers feature a slim rounded head, a long slightly downcurved bill, and a longer flared tail that tapers to a point. These woodpeckers are a dusty taupe overall with richly patterned black spots, bars, and crescents on their backs and undersides and a black bib underneath their necks. For eastern birds, the undersides of the wing and tail feathers are bright yellow and the males have two distinct black batches extended from the beak down either cheek. In the western counterpart undersides of the wing and tail feathers have a red tint and the cheek patches are also red.

  

Above Left: Female Northern Flicker (Yellow Shafted) / Above Right: Male Northern Flicker (Yellow Shafted)

Female Red-shafted Flicker Male Red-shafted Flicker

Above Left: Female Northern Flicker (Red Shafted) credit: Eric Ellingson | Macaulay Library / Above Right: Male Northern Flicker (Red Shafted) credit: Matt Davis | Macaulay Library

Attracting Northern Flickers to Your Feeder:

Flickers typically reside in open habitats close to stands of trees. This includes areas like woodlands, wood edges, yards, and parks. In the West they can be found in mountain forests all the way up to the tree line.

As with other woodpeckers and insect eating birds, suet is a safe bet when trying to attract these spotted visitors. Suet feeders with extended bases provide space for these bottom-heavy birds to prop their tail for comfortable feeding, much like they would naturally on the trunk of a tree. Peanuts and black oil sunflower are also favorites of the Northern Flicker. These can be fed in an open tray feeder to allow ample space for these larger birds to feed comfortably.

Since birds get only roughly 25% of their nutritional needs from feeders, it is important to remember to try to limit the use of broad spectrum pesticides and when possible leave larger dying or dead trees standing to help provide natural sources for the insects that make up a large portion of this bird's diet. Flickers also eat berries and seeds, especially in winter months. Including plants such as dogwood, sumac, wild cherry and grape, bayberries, hackberries, or elderberries in your landscape can also help to provide additional food sources and keep these birds close by.

male northern flicker on tray feeder

Above: Male Northern Flicker (Yellow-Shafted) on Hanging Platform Feeder (Model# WWCF23)

Nesting:

Northern Flickers typically excavate nest holes in dead or diseased tree trunks or large branches. Because of this, look for nest cavities in tree species which are more susceptible to a heart rot, like Aspen or Alder, which makes for easy excavation. Unlike many woodpeckers, flickers will often reuse cavities that were excavated in a previous year. Nests are generally placed 6-15 feet off the ground, but can be located significantly higher in some cases. Both male and female help with nest excavation, creating an entry hole roughly 3 inches in diameter with a cavity between 13 and 16 inches in depth which is left bare with the exception of a bed of wood chips for eggs to rest on.

Eggs range from 0.8-1.4 inches in length and 0.6-1.3 inches in width and are solid white. Typically clutches contain between 5 to 8 eggs and hatch within 14 days. Young will remain in the nest four roughly 4 weeks before fledging.

Have you had any Northern Flicker sightings in your yard?

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Backyard bird identification guide

Backyard bird identification guide

Whether you’re a beginning birder or a seasoned expert, identifying the birds who visit your backyard can sometimes be a challenge. This quick guide-at-a-glance can help you identify the most common backyard birds. Then, take a deep dive into each one to learn more about their distinctive features, how to attract them, how they nest, and more!

 

Jump to section

Northern Cardinal
Blue Jay
Eastern Bluebird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Mourning Dove
American Goldfinch
House Finch
Downy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pileated Woodpecker
Tree Swallow

 

Northern Cardinal

This fairly large songbird is easily identifiable with its long tail, short thick bright orange beak, prominent crest, and long tail. Measuring between 8.3 and 9.1 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 9.8 to 12.2 inches, the Northern Cardinal is a species with sexual dimorphism meaning the male and female have very distinct coloration. Male cardinals are a brilliant red all over with a black accent on its face directly around the bill.

Female Northern Cardinal (above left) / Male Northern Cardinal (above right).

Click here to learn more about the Northern Cardinal.

Blue Jay

A large-crested songbird with broad, rounded tail, Blue Jays measure on average 9-12 inches from bill to tail with a wingspan of 13-17 inches (smaller than crows and larger than robins). With a white or light gray underneath, various shades of blue above, and a bold black "necklace", the Blue Jay is aptly named and can bring a wonderfully vivid pop of color to your feeders. Its tail and wings are barred with black, and it has a bold white wing bar (a distinct field mark on the top of a bird's wing caused by contrasting colors on the tips of the primary and secondary coverts).

blue jay

Click here to learn more about the Blue Jay.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebirds are small, beautifully colored thrushes. Averaging between 6-8 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 9-12 inches (slightly larger than sparrows but smaller than robins), these blue beauties are fairly easy to identify.  They can often be seen perched in a somewhat "hunched" position on wires or fences in fields and open woodlands. The adult male bluebird has a vibrant blue back, head, and tail that are hard to miss, especially during breeding season. A rust colored accent across the throat and breast above the white belly clearly distinguish the Eastern Bluebird from its Mountain Bluebird relative. Female markings mimic those of the male but in more subdued hues - their "blue" can often look more like a shade of grey.

 eastern bluebirds

Top: Male. Bottom: Female.

Click here to learn more about the Eastern Bluebird.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Beating their wings on average 53 times per second, these quick little birds are a bright emerald green on the back of the head down to the tail. While both male and female have a grey-white underside, only the males have a very distinct ruby red patch on their throat. The shade of red and size of the patch can vary from bird to bird, with the feathers sometimes appearing very dark until catching the light.

male ruby throated hummingbird female ruby throated hummingbird

Left: male. Right: female.

Click here to learn more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

These quick little birds are a dull metallic green on the back of the head down to the tail. While both male and female have a grey-white underside, only the males have a very distinct black patch on their throat. The shape and size of the patch can vary from bird to bird, with a thin iridescent purple strip at the base, sometimes unnoticeable until catching the light.

male black chinned hummingbird female black chinned hummingbird

Left: male . Right: female. [Photo credits to: Joan Gellatly | Flickr & ©Marky Mutchler | Macaulay Library]

Click here to learn more about the Black-chinned Hummingbird.

Anna’s Hummingbird

At just under 4 inches in length, Anna's hummingbirds are small in comparison to other birds but in the hummingbird realm they are medium-sized and somewhat stocky. Mostly pale gray on the underside with an iridescent emerald green back, tail, and wings (sometimes also extended around the abdomen), the Anna's hummingbird is distinguishable from the Rufous hummingbird because it lacks any orange or rust-colored markings. While sometimes appearing a dull brown without direct sunlight, the male's face and throat are covered with brilliantly colored fuchsia feathers.

annas hummingbird annas hummingbirds at hummingbird feeder

Left: male. Right: females.

Click here to learn more about the Anna’s Hummingbird.

Baltimore Oriole

Slightly smaller and more slender than an American Robin, Baltimore Orioles range from 6.7 to 7.5 inches in length and feature long legs, a thick neck, and long pointed bills. Adult male Baltimore Orioles have black feathers on their head and wings, bright orange tell-tale plumage on their chest and underside, and a single solid white bar on each wing. Females and immature males are a more muted yellow-orange with grayish shading on the head, and gray wings with two white bars on each wing. 

Female Baltimore Oriole on jelly feeder Male Baltimore Oriole on nectar feeder

Above left: A female Baltimore Oriole on a specialized jelly and orange feeder.

Above right: A male Baltimore Oriole on a specialized feeder offering nectar, jelly, and oranges.

Click here to learn more about the Baltimore Oriole.

Red-winged Blackbird

Roughly the same size as robins, breeding male Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty hard to mistake. Average length beak to tail ranges from 7-9 inches with a wingspan of 12-16 inches. True to their name, these stocky, broad-shouldered blackbirds have bold red and yellow shoulder patches on either side. The females look much different with a streaked brown and tan pattern. Nonbreeding male Red-winged black birds' pattern looks somewhat like a marriage of the two: paler, often incomplete red shoulder patches with some tan streaking showing through the black.

   

Left: Breeding male. Middle: Female. Right: Nonbreeding male.

Click here to learn more about Red-winged Blackbirds.

Mourning Dove

Plump-bodied and long-tailed birds with short legs, Mourning doves range from 9-13.5 inches from beak to tail with a wingspan of around 17.5 inches. These birds have a small bill, short reddish colored legs, and a head that looks small in comparison to the body. Their coloration is typically light grey and brown and generally muted in color with a dusting of larger black spots on their lower wings.

Click here to learn more about the Mourning Dove.

American Goldfinch

This small finch has a short conical bill and a short, notched tail. American Goldfinches are typically 4.5"-5" in length with a wingspan of roughly 7.5"-8.5". During early spring and summer months, breeding males have a vibrant yellow body with a black forehead and black wings with white markings above and beneath the tail. Adult females share the same color pattern but in much more dull tones that may appear more olive or tan in color.

During winter months, these birds are drab, solid olive or light brown with blackish wings and two pale wing bars. In fact, the American Goldfinches are the only finch that molts body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer. Spotting a male Goldfinch with brightening yellow feathers in early spring is one of the welcome signs of approaching warmer months!

Left: Male. Right: Female.

Click here to learn more about the American Goldfinch.

House Finch

These small bodied finches have large beaks, shorter wings, and a comparably long slightly notched tail. Roughly 5 to 5.5 inches in length, these streaky grayish-brown finches are dimorphous, with the males distinctly marked by rosy red coloring around the face and upper breast. Coloring can vary from bird to bird as the red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt. This means the more pigment in the food, the redder the male.

house finches

Pictured: Male and female.

Distinguishing between a House Finch and Purple Finch:

Although these two finch species are similar in appearance they can be distinguished quite easily in the field. Both male and female house finches sport a more slender body with a longer tail sporting a shallower notch. The male House Finch's bold coloring is more of a red-orange limited to the face and chest area while the male Purple Finch is a rosier, pink-red coloring that extends past the face and down the back. The female House Finch have a more blurred streaking pattern in the brown and tan feathers on their flanks and also a plainer face. In comparison, the female Purple Finch is coarsely streaked below and has a pronounced darker brown line down the side of the throat and a whitish eyebrow. 

When identifying between similar species it is also important to note the location and time of year. While these two species do have territory overlap, Purple Finches are typically only found in the United States during non-breeding months with the exception of the Western cost and most northeastern states whereas the House Finch is found throughout most of the United States year-round. 

male purple finch and male house finch

Left: breeding male Purple Finch. Right: breeding male House Finch. Photo courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

female purple finch and female house finch

Left: female/immature Purple Finch. Right: female/immature House Finch. Photo courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Click here to learn more about the House Finch.

Downy Woodpecker

Ranging from 5.5 to 6.7 inches in length and featuring a straight, chisel-like bill, blocky head, and wide shoulders, the Downy Woodpecker is a small version of the standard woodpecker build. Compared to other woodpeckers, the Downy Woodpecker's bill is significantly smaller in relation to its head, however it is still a forceful tool for extracting insects from trees. Sporting a black and white checkered appearance, both males and females have a white underside, black upper wing and checkered lower wings with a boldly striped face and white stripe down the center of the back. The center of the tail is black, outlined by white border feathers that are typically lightly speckled with black spots. Males are easily differentiated by a bold red patch on the back of their heads.

female downy woodpecker on a tree male downy woodpecker on a tree

Left: Female Downy Woodpecker. Right: Male Downy Woodpecker

Distinguishing between a Downy and Hairy Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpeckers are roughly two-thirds the size of Hairy Woodpeckers. Since this can be fairly hard to establish in the field, some birders use their feeders as indicator of size and scale. Another establishing feature of the Downy Woodpecker are distinguishable black bars on the white tail feathers in contrast to the all white side tail feathers of the Hairy Woodpecker. If the bird's bill is visible, the major difference in bill size. The Downy’s bill is roughly one-third the length of the bird’s head, while the Hairy’s bill is almost as long as the its head - a railroad spike in comparison. An additional, less reliable distinguishing feature is that the male Hairy Woodpecker's red patch is often split in two, while the Downy’s is not.

Hairy and Downy Woodpecker comparison image

Left: Hairy Woodpecker. Right: Downy Woodpecker. Illustrations from the book "A Field Guide to the birds" by Roger Tory Peterson.

Click here to learn more about the Downy Woodpecker.

Black-capped Chickadee

This tiny bird has a short neck and a large head, giving it a distinctive round body shape. Chickadees measure 4.5-6 inches from beak to tail on average with a wingspan of 6-8 inches. With a gray back and white belly, these birds have a very distinct black cap and "beard" accented by white cheeks, helping make them fairly easy to identify.

Click here to learn more about the Black-capped Chickadee.

Tufted Titmouse

This small songbird has soft silvery gray feathers above and white feathers below. A black patch just above the beak and a rusty or peach-colored wash underneath the wings are helpful identifiers. Tufted Titmice are roughly 5.5"-6.3" from beak tip to tail with a wingspan of 7.9"-10.2". These birds are regular visitors to bird feeders, and can be a treat to watch, the tuft of feathers at the front of its head communicating much of its emotions and "attitude".

Click here to learn more about the Tufted Titmouse.

White-breasted Nuthatch

The largest of the nuthatches, the White-breasted nuthatch is still a small bird averaging 5" to 5.5" in length with a wingspan ranging from 8"-10.5". With gray-blue coloring on the back, a white face, and white underparts this bird features a very short tail. Typical of most nuthatches, the White-breasted nuthatch has a large head and almost no neck. Its long, narrow bill is straight or sometimes slightly upturned. Males feature a black cap that runs from the beak down the back of the neck (on females this cap is dark gray). Most commonly found in woods and woodland edges of deciduous forests, these agile birds can often be seen creeping along tree trunks and large branches, often turned sideways and upside-down on vertical surfaces as they forage.

Click here to learn more about the White-breasted Nuthatch.

Pileated Woodpecker

This large woodpecker has a long neck, a distinctive triangular red crest that sweeps off the back of the head, and a long chisel-like bill. Average length from beak to tail ranges from 16-19 inches and the wingspan can be as large as 26-29 inches. Both male and female have black bodies with white stripes on the face and neck. Males can be distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek.

Pictured: Male

Click here to learn more about the Pileated Woodpecker.

Tree Swallow

These small, streamlined songbirds have a short slightly notched tail and long pointed wings. Measuring between 4.7 and 5.9 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 11.8 to 13.8 inches, these iridescent passerine are known for their aerial displays while foraging insects midair. Adult males have white undersides cloaked with shimmering blue-green feathers on their head and back with blackish wings and tail and a thin black eye mask. Females appearance varies only in the intensity of blue, with their feathers being somewhat duller at times with more brown feathers in their upperparts.

Click here to learn more about the Tree Swallow.

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How to attract orioles

How to attract orioles

Boasting one of the biggest sweet tooths (or beaks) of all the backyard birds, whether it’s the Baltimore, Bullock’s, Hooded, or Orchard species, their bright orange, yellow, and black plumage bring dazzling color to our backyards every year. So how can you attract the oriole to your yard? With just a few supplies and our simple tips and tricks, you’ll be ready to catch a glimpse of the elegant oriole this season!

baltimore oriole standing on orange slice

Put up an oriole feeder

Known as one of the more skittish backyard birds, orioles are often heard more than seen as they typically forage high in trees for insects, flowers, and fruit. But you can be successful in attracting them to your backyard with a bird feeder.

One of the simplest ways to attract orioles to your yard is to put up an oriole feeder filled with fresh fruit, jelly, or homemade nectar. Oriole feeders have dishes for jelly or nectar and spikes to easily feed oranges and fruit slices. Since orioles can’t hover like hummingbirds, they need built-in perches to land on and feed for a longer period of time. Since feed like fruit and jelly can spoil quickly, orioles feeders can also have protective baffles that shield the feeder and its contents from the weather.

One downside to offering such sweet treats in your feeder is that they can attract unwanted pests like bees or ants. Typically, if the pests don’t have access to the nectar or fruit, they should eventually move on from the feeder to a more rewarding source. Here are some additional tips to help keep bees and ants off your oriole feeder:

  • Keep it clean: Make sure there is no exposed nectar on or around the outside of your feeder and thoroughly clean it with warm soapy water every 4-5 days at minimum.
  • Change it up: Periodically move your feeder. Birds will usually look around and find a relocated feeder, but insects will not.
  • Get in the shade: If the feeder is currently in the sun, try moving it to a more shaded area.
  • Use bee guards: Some oriole feeders come with removable bee guards. Simply slip the guard over the base of the feeding port to prevent bees from reaching the nectar.
  • Use an ant moat: Some oriole feeders have built-in ant moats, which trap ants in a small cup of water before they have the opportunity to reach the feeder. If your feeder does not come with an ant moat, you may choose to purchase one separately. Be sure to keep it full of water! If the weather is particularly hot and the water is evaporating quickly, check it regularly to prevent it from sitting empty.
  • Try fishing line: You may try hanging your feeder using fishing line, as it is very difficult for ants to climb. Keep in mind this may not be feasible for heavier feeders.

Try these oriole feeders:

What do orioles like to eat?
Orioles love fruit slices, particularly oranges, apples, peaches, berries, and bananas. As far as jellies or jams, birders have tried several varieties, but orioles seem to prefer plain grape jelly. Look for a natural grape jelly that doesn’t contain high-fructose syrup. Orioles will drink hummingbird nectar, but providing them with a slightly less sweet concentration made specifically for orioles is preferable and more natural to what they typically like. No matter what fruit or nectar you offer in your oriole feeder, always make sure it’s fresh!

Besides the sweet stuff, orioles eat a wide range of insects, like mealworms, caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers, and more, giving them the protein they need to round out their diet.

Make your own homemade oriole nectar

The formula for oriole nectar is simple: about one part white granulated sugar to six parts water. This specific sugar concentration best mirrors the sugar concentration naturally found in flowers or sap preferred by orioles. The natural sugars found in flower nectar are primarily sucrose, like that of white granulated sugar.

Boil the water for approximately two minutes, add the sugar, and stir to dissolve thoroughly. Cover and allow to cool before using or pouring into a clean storage bottle. A large batch of nectar can be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. This makes refilling the feeder easy, so you won't mind doing it every few days.

Additional suggestions:

  • We do NOT recommend adding red food dye or any coloring, whether artificial or natural, to the nectar.
  • Make sure to thoroughly clean your feeders before the first use of the season and before each subsequent refill.
  • We only recommend using regular white granulated sugar in nectar preparation.
  • Do NOT use honey. Honey is comprised primarily of fructose and glucose and therefore birds digest this much less efficiently. Also, fermentation and mold growth occurs much more rapidly in nectar solutions using honey than those from granulated sugar.
  • Do NOT use artificial sweeteners! Remember, these sweeteners contain no calories, which means they provide no energy to birds.

Place your feeder in the right location

The location of your bird feeder should make the orioles feel safe and at home. Orioles are likely to feed more comfortably when near natural cover like trees, shrubs, or other vegetation. This provides shelter for them to view their feeding area so they can see any predators while waiting for their turn to feed.

To help prevent fatal window collisions, feeders should be hung or mounted closer than 3 feet or farther than 15 feet from a window.

Since orioles exhibit more shy behavior than other birds, try to keep your oriole feeder away from locations where there is frequent human activity since this can scare them off.

oriole on feeder

Set up a bird bath

Orioles will look for shallow, moving water to clean and bathe in. Providing a consistent source of clean and fresh water from a bird bath, fountain or a shallow pond will help keep them cool and hydrated in the heat of the summer months. Try setting up a shallow bird bath and add a bubbler, dripper, or mister to give the orioles the movement they’re looking for.

It’s important to keep your water source clean and change the water often to prevent bacteria from forming and spreading amongst the birds. Try to place your water source in the shade to keep it from drying out and getting too hot in the sun. If your water source is stagnant, you can add a fountain to keep the water moving and prevent it from becoming dirty quickly.

When do orioles come to feeders?

Most orioles are migratory birds, meaning they leave and return from a specific area seasonally. As they return from migration and end up in their ultimate destination, they will remember the source of their first meals - oftentimes coming back to the same feeders repeatedly. For the best chance of orioles coming to your feeders, it is recommended to have them up and ready about two weeks before they return from their winter migration. It’s most common to set them out sometime between mid-April and mid-May to catch the first migrants. Be sure to research the migratory pattern of orioles in your area to determine the right time to have your oriole feeder ready.

How to identify orioles

The most common species of oriole in North America are the Baltimore, Bullock’s, Hooded, and Orchard oriole. The species of oriole that will come to your backyard depends solely on your location, but the bright orange, yellow, and black plumage on the oriole is hard to mistake! Look at each of the different types picture below and take note of the size and pattern to help you identify which oriole is visiting your yard.

1. Baltimore Oriole

baltimore oriole on oriole feeder

2. Bullock’s Oriole

bullocks oriole

3. Hooded Oriole

hooded oriole on mason jar feeder

4. Orchard Oriole

orchard oriole

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All about the spring nesting cycle

All about the spring nesting cycle

Arguably the most exciting time for backyard birding begins in early spring, when migratory birds return from their winter recess and nesting season begins. What is nesting season? It’s the time of year when birds find a mate, build a nest, lay eggs, and raise their young. You, too, can experience the joys of nesting season in your own backyard by learning all about the spring nesting cycle!

bluebird hatchlings

Bluebird hatchlings in Bluebird Box House (Model# WWCH3).

When is bird nesting season?

Bird nesting season usually occurs from mid-March to mid-June and may fluctuate between geographic regions. Beginning in the spring, food sources are typically becoming more plentiful with the rise in temperature and increase in rainwater.

How do birds find a mate?

The first stage in the nesting cycle is courtship, or creating a pair bond between a male and female bird. You might be surprised to find that many of the ways birds attract a mate are similar in humans. Wild birds show off their talents by singing intricate songs and dancing with daring moves to prove their intelligence and maturity. Some choose to showcase their nurturing abilities, like nest-building and feeding, to demonstrate their ability to provide suitable shelter and foraging for their future young. Or simpler yet, they flaunt their finest features in displays that show off their bright plumage, health, and strength. This courtship generally lasts 1-2 weeks as the birds search for the perfect mate to nest with.

Where do birds make nests?

Depending on their species, the most common backyard birds will choose a variety of suitable nesting sites from tall grasses to birdhouses. Often building their nests at a fork in the branches of tall trees are hummingbirds, cardinals, and jays. Some birds, like juncos, make their nests in tall grasses, at the base of a tree or in exposed roots. Cardinals like to nest in dense shrubs or bushes, while finches will nest in a range of the previously mentioned locations. Woodpeckers prefer to nest in the cavities of live or dead trees but will not use nest boxes.

Bluebirds, tree swallows, titmice, wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches all prefer to nest in a cavity, whether it be a tree cavity or a birdhouse. If you’d like to try attracting a pair of nesting birds to your backyard, put up a Bluebird house or wren house ahead of the springtime and watch to see if your house becomes host to a growing family! Not sure where to put one? Check out our mounting and care instructions for Bluebird houses and wren houses.

bluebirds using bluebird house


A pair of Bluebirds using Bluebird Box House (Model# CWH3).

Bluebird Houses:

 

Wren Houses:

 

How long does it take for a bird to build a nest?

A bird’s nest can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to complete. There are many factors that can affect how long it takes for a bird to build a full nest. Material availability or quality, weather, and the bird’s experience level can all influence the number of days needed to construct a suitable nest.

Do birds reuse nests?

In most cases, birds do not reuse their old nests. Some birds, like woodpeckers and hummingbirds, may build on top of their old nests out of convenience or if it’s in their preferred location, but typically birds will move on to build a new nest in a new location as part of the nesting process.

If you have a birdhouse, it’s recommended that you clean it out after every brood has fledged. At minimum, once a year prior to nesting season. You can safely clean your birdhouse to reduce potential parasite problems and increase occupancy throughout the year.

How many eggs do birds lay in a season?

A clutch of eggs is the total number of eggs laid in one nesting attempt. A female bird doesn’t lay the same number of eggs in every clutch. The total number of eggs per clutch can vary widely depending on the species, or even the brood. Below is a list of the most common backyard birds, their potential number of broods, the size of each clutch, and a description of the egg to help you identify the nest.

Bird Species

Number of Broods

Typical Clutch Size

Egg Description

Nest Description

Northern Cardinal

1-2 broods

2-5 eggs

Grayish white, buffy white, or greenish white speckled with pale gray to brown.

Open cup made of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass or hair.

Blue Jay

1 brood

2-7 eggs

Bluish or light brown with brownish spots.

Bulky open cup made of twigs, grass, weeds, bark strips, moss, sometimes held together with mud. Lined with rootlets and other fine materials, often decorated with paper, rags, string, or other debris.

Black-capped Chickadee

1 brood

1-13 eggs

White with fine reddish-brown dots or spots.

Foundation of moss or other matter, lining of softer material such as animal hair.

American Goldfinch

1-2 broods

2-7 eggs

Pale bluish white, sometimes with small faint brown spots around large end.

Solid, compact cup of plant fibers, spiderwebs, plant down (especially from thistles); nest is so well-made that it may even hold water.

House Finch

1-6 broods

2-6 eggs

Pale blue to white, speckled with fine black and pale purple.

Open cup of grass, weeds, fine twigs, leaves, rootlets, sometimes with feathers, string, or other debris added.

Eastern Bluebird

1-3 broods

2-7 eggs

Pale blue or, rarely, white.

Loosely constructed cup of weeds, twigs, and dry grass, lined with finer grass, sometimes with animal hair or feathers.

Tree Swallow

1-2 broods

4-7 eggs

Pale pink, turning to pure white within 4 days.

Cup of grass, weeds, rootlets, moss, pine needles, other plant materials. Usually lined with many feathers (from other kinds of birds), mostly added after first eggs are laid.

White-breasted Nuthatch

1 brood

5-9 eggs

Creamy white to pinkish-white, speckled with reddish brown, gray, or purple.

Simple cup of bark fibers, grasses, twigs, hair. Sometimes adds mud to rim of nest entrance.

House Wren

1-2 broods

3-10 eggs

White, pink-white, or grayish, speckled or blotched with reddish brown.

Foundation of twigs, topped with softer cup of plant fibers, grass, weeds, animal hair, feathers.

American Robin

1-3 broods

3-5 eggs

Sky blue or blue-green and unmarked.

Cup of grasses, twigs, debris, worked into solid foundation of mud, lined with fine grasses and plant fibers.

Tufted Titmouse

1 brood

3-9 eggs

White to creamy white, spotted with chestnut-red, brown, purple, or lilac.

Foundation of grass, moss, leaves, bark strips, lined with soft materials, especially animal hair.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

1-2 broods

1-3 eggs

Tiny, white, weighing about half a gram.

Compact cup of grasses, plant fibers, spider webs, lined with plant down. The outside is camouflaged with lichens and dead leaves.

Downy Woodpecker

1 brood

3-8 eggs

Completely white.

Cavity entrance is often surrounded by fungus or lichen, helping to camouflage site.

 

tree swallow nest

A clutch of five Tree Swallow eggs inside the Bluebird Box House w/Viewing Window (Model# CWH4).

How long does it take for a baby bird to mature? How does a baby bird learn to fly?

From the birth of the hatchling (a newly hatched bird that can’t walk or fly with few or no feathers and closed eyes) until the time they are a fledgling learning to fly varies between bird species but is generally between 10 days and 3 weeks. For fledglings, learning to fly takes a little bit of practice and lot of instinct. Fledglings usually begin attempting to fly when they are around 2 weeks old, after a period of stumbling and falling around the nest. Practicing flight usually involves flying or falling from the nest and finding their way back to it. After a few attempts, they’ll learn how to spread their wings and begin flapping to avoid falling to the ground.

What do you do if you find a baby bird on the ground?

If you find a baby bird on the ground, first identify whether the bird is a hatchling (a newly hatched bird that can’t walk or fly with few or no feathers and closed eyes) or a fledgling (mostly covered in feathers of a dull color with stubby wings and tail). A fledgling who is learning how to fly can make its way back to the nest without any help. If the bird is a hatchling, don’t be afraid to place the bird back in the nest if you can locate it. Birds don’t have a strong sense of smell and they will not abandon their young if you touch them.

If the bird is injured, do not touch it. Contact your city or county extension office to reach your local wildlife management department. Or, if you have a local park district, there may be a rehabilitation center who will accept injured birds or wildlife.

 

Which birds are you hoping will nest in your backyard this season? Share your nesting season stories with us!

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Indoor activities for kids: birding edition!

Indoor activities for kids: birding edition!

When the weather stops you from getting outside to play, find ways to celebrate nature inside with these indoor birding activities! With a combination of both hands-on and online activities for all ages, go on an indoor birding journey until you can get back outside with the birds again.
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Late summer birding

Late summer birding

Now that the buzz of spring migration has quieted, on come the high temperatures and humidity of hot sunny days. You might notice less bird activity at your feeders and a quieter tone in the trees. But just because it’s summer doesn’t mean birding season is over! As they lay low in anticipation for fall migration, there is still a lot taking place behind the scenes with your feathered friends that you may not even notice or know about. We have the answers to a few of the most common late summer birding questions to help you understand what’s happening with your backyard birds during the summer!

When do birds molt their feathers?

Once the summertime arrives, you might notice that the birds can look a little worse for wear with dull and drab colors. After an active spring of using their brightest and flashiest feathers to attract a mate and expending lots of energy to raise their young, a bird’s feathers can become worn out. Once nesting season is over, birds can then afford to lie low as they begin the molting process of replacing their entire plumage. Molting can leave birds with partially grown flight feathers, making them more vulnerable to predators. They may not seem as present around your backyard but rest assured that they are there saving energy and preparing for the season ahead.

blue jay feeding from nature's way weathered hopper feeder

Blue Jay visiting Galvanized Weathered Hopper Feeder (Model# WWGF2-DECO)

Why do birds stop singing in the summer?

Much of the singsong background music birds make while attracting a mate or defending their territory in the spring is no longer necessary once nesting season is over. By July, most backyard birds have attracted their mate and their spring hatchlings have fledged, leaving a quieter sound behind. Some songbirds will continue singing in order to teach their young how to communicate, but as the summer passes, your birding sessions will likely have the volume turned down.

Do birds nest in the summer?

Birders commonly refer to “nesting season” as the time between late March and late June, or springtime. It’s true that most birds do take advantage of the early spring months to mate, nest and raise their young. But don’t forget that some bird species have multiple broods in one season – even as many as six! For these birds, nesting season can extend well into the late summer months.

eastern bluebirds making a nest in nature's way bluebird house

Eastern Bluebirds making their nest in the Bluebird Box House (Model# CWH3)

How do birds stay cool in the heat?

As the summer temperatures continue to rise, many birders may wonder how birds can manage to stay cool in the heat. Since birds don’t have sweat glands, they rely on other physical behaviors to regulate their body temperature, like panting, or gular fluttering (a combination of panting and vibration of the throat which results in evaporation and cooling). Keeping in the shade, bathing and staying less active also help to lower a bird’s body temperature.

 

Don’t forget to check out our tips for birding in hot weather to make the most out of your summer birdwatching experience!

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How does a hummingbird eat?

How does a hummingbird eat?

Spotting a hummingbird in your backyard can be a fleeting but rewarding experience. That’s because hummingbirds do everything in such a hurry that they can be difficult to sight!

Because of their hurried behavior, hummingbirds have been tricky to research and study at length, leading to many misconceptions about how they drink. Did you know that scientists used to believe that hummingbirds used their beaks as a straw? Find out how exactly a hummingbird eats, what their beaks are used for and how much nectar they can consume.

Does a hummingbird have a tongue?

A hummingbird has a tongue that can stretch twice as long as its beak. Their tongues are forked and are lined with lamellae, which are tiny, hair-like barbs that extend outwards as they open their beaks and stick out their tongues. When they retract their long tongue back into their beak, it coils up inside their head, wrapping around their skull. The average hummingbird’s beak can range from 15mm-21mm (.59in-.82in) in length, meaning its tongue can stretch up to 1.6 inches long! [Image credit: Bob Lewis, www.wingbeats.org]

hummingbird tongue

How does a hummingbird drink?

As a hummingbird extends its tongue into a flower, dish or nectar feeder port to drink, the lamellae spread from the forks in their tongue, capturing the nectar by quickly curling back up towards the tongue and trapping it as the tongue fully retracts into their head. Hummingbirds can flick their tongues in and out of nectar as many as 20 times per second!

hummingbird drinking

What do hummingbirds use their beaks for?

If they don’t use their beaks as a straw, then what purpose does a hummingbird’s beak have? Hummingbirds have a flexible lower beak that helps them snatch insects in flight. Some also use their beak for self-defense, often against other hummingbirds for territory assertion. Perhaps the simplest use for a hummingbird's beak is as a protective covering for their tongue.

How much does a hummingbird drink per day?

A hummingbird can consume about half of its body weight in sugar water per day and can feed about 5-8 times per hour.

hummingbird drinking nectar from feeder

What do hummingbirds eat?

Have you ever wondered how a hummingbird can live off of sugar water alone? The short answer is - they don't. Even if a hummingbird visits your feeder several times throughout the day, they are often out scavenging for tiny insects and spiders that supply protein and other essential nutrients. A hummingbird’s diet may consist of 50-60% insects. Because of this, we recommend homeowners avoid the use of broad-spectrum pesticides in their yard, as it could potentially eliminate this crucial protein source that makes up a healthy hummingbird diet.

 

Now that you know more about how a hummingbird drinks, try setting up a hummingbird feeder and filling it with your own homemade nectar!

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Bird Feature: Baltimore Oriole

Bird Feature: Baltimore Oriole

Identifying Baltimore Orioles:

Slightly smaller and more slender than an American Robin, Baltimore Orioles range from 6.7 to 7.5 inches in length and feature long legs, a thick neck, and long pointed bills. Adult male Baltimore Orioles have black feathers on their head and wings, bright orange tell-tale plumage on their chest and underside, and a single solid white bar on each wing. Females and immature males are a more muted yellow-orange with grayish shading on the head, and gray wings with two white bars on each wing. 

Female Baltimore Oriole on jelly feeder   Male Baltimore Oriole on nectar feeder

Above left: A female Baltimore Oriole on a specialized jelly and orange feeder.

Above right: A male Baltimore Oriole on a specialized feeder offering nectar, jelly, and oranges.

 

Where Baltimore Orioles Live:

Baltimore Orioles are a migratory bird that breed in the eastern portion of the United States and South-central Canada during summer months. Keep an eye out for these birds arriving from early April to mid-May. Their season is short, with some departing as early as late July for wintering grounds in Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America. 

 

How to Attract Baltimore Orioles to Your Feeder:

These birds are often heard more than seen as they typically forage high in trees for insects, flowers, and fruit. They tend to be more skittish than other backyard birds, but you can be successful in attracting them to feeders. One of the simplest ways to attract Baltimore Orioles to your yard is to set up an oriole feeder. 

Maintaining a clean feeder is always important for the health of your birds, but is even more important when offering feeds rich in sugar as these feeds can spoil quickly, especially in the hot summer weather. It is recommended oriole feeders be cleaned every 4-5 days. To clean, take down your feeder and discard any unconsumed jelly or fruit. Flush feeder with warm water. Scrub using either a mild solution of unscented dish detergent and warm water, or sanitize using a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry completely before refilling.

Female Baltimore Oriole eating grape jelly

What Baltimore Orioles Eat:

In the spring and fall, a Baltimore Oriole's diet is composed mainly of nectar and ripe fruit. Including flowering trees and shrubs such as crabapple and mulberries in your landscaping can help to draw these birds to your yard. The most common food offering for Baltimore Oriole's are oranges, which can be sliced in half and placed in a specialized feeder, or even nailed directly to a tree (or impaled through a smaller branch). A slightly more specialized feeder can allow the offering of additional feed options, such as nectar (sugar water) and grape jelly.  

While breeding and feeding their young, a significant portion of the Baltimore Oriole's diet consists of protein-rich insects. Not overall picky, these birds will consume a wide variety of beetles, crickets, caterpillars, snails, and other small invertebrates. The protein derived from these insects is pivotal in the growth and development of the young, and we strongly encourage withholding the use of broad-spectrum insecticides in your yard to ensure a food source during this crucial stage. 

 

Nesting:

Baltimore Orioles build extremely unique hanging sock-like nests woven together from slender fibers constructed in the slender upper branches of a tree. Typically these nests are 3 to 4 inches deep with a smaller opening on top and a bulging bottom chamber up to 4 inches across where the eggs are laid. Females gather materials for and construct the nest within the territory defended by her mate. Males will occasionally aid in collection of nesting materials which can consist of long grass, strips of grapevine bark, horsehair, as well as artificial materials such as twine or fishing line (*please do not purposefully set out these artificial materials as they are not the safest options for the birds).  

Each pair will raise one brood consisting of 3-7 eggs each season. Eggs are roughly an inch in length and 0.6-0.7 inches in width and are a pale gray with black or brown marbling. Eggs typically hatch within 14 days and the young will fledge in an additional 14 days. 

Have you seen any Baltimore Orioles on your feeders recently?

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