Garden Variety: How to attract orioles to your yard

Orioles are brightly colored birds that migrate through Kansas each spring and fall and sometimes stay for the summer. Enthusiasts enjoy watching them at feeders and hearing their sweet songs and anxiously await the spring migration each year.

In the Lawrence area, oriole migration usually peaks in mid-May. To attract them to your yard, use fresh fruit, grape jelly and nectar (sugar water).

Orioles usually begin to arrive in the Lawrence area in the last week of April. Put out feeders now to attract them as they arrive throughout May. Many of the birds will stay for the summer if they find adequate food and nesting sites.

Use oranges and grape jelly as a starting point for feeding orioles. They enjoy other fruits and nectar also, but those can be used later in the season. Place feeders where orioles can see them from above.

Cut oranges in half and place them face up or face out in feeders. Nail or pin them down to keep them in place.

Use feeders made especially for orioles or basic platform or tray feeders to hold the food. Oriole feeders typically have pockets to hold jelly and pins for orange halves. Some birdwatchers repurpose suet feeders and place orange halves in them for the orioles.

Others simply nail orange halves to boards and hang them horizontally or set them on a platform.

Attracting orioles may take some time. A water source such as a bird bath or bubbler near the feeder may help. Replace the fruit and jelly to keep it fresh if needed. Once orioles find your yard, they will often return each spring.

Nectar feeding is another option. Oriole nectar feeders look similar to hummingbird feeders but have larger ports and orange accents rather than red. Mix one part sugar with four parts boiled water to make nectar, the same as for hummingbirds.

There are two species of oriole that commonly migrate through or take up summer residence in northeast Kansas – Baltimore orioles and orchard orioles. Another species, Bullock’s oriole, is common in the western half of the state but rare in the east. Bullock’s and Baltimore orioles may breed on the east edge of the Bullock’s range, though, and the hybrids they produce are sometimes found farther east than the regular Bullock’s orioles.

Male Baltimore orioles have the bright orange chests and bellies for which orioles are known. Their heads, backs and wings are black and gray with white bars on the wings. Female and juvenile Baltimore orioles are colored similarly but with paler orange to yellow coloration on the chest and belly.

Orchard orioles are smaller than Baltimore orioles. On males, the chests and bellies are rust-colored. Heads, backs, and wings are black with white bars on the wings. Females and juveniles have less distinguishable coloration and are usually yellow all over with brown and gray on the wings.

Orioles nest and raise their offspring in early summer. The fall migration begins around Labor Day, and the birds overwinter in Mexico, Central America and South America.

— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.

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