Orchard Oriole

(Icterus spurius)

Orchard Orioles spend most of the year on their wintering grounds in Central America and northwestern South America.

Northbound migrants leave the wintering grounds in March and begin arriving in the southern United States as early as late March, reaching the northern parts of their range by mid- to late May.

Some migrants journey across the Gulf of Mexico. They will spend only enough time on the breeding grounds to raise a single brood before beginning their southward migration.


At 6 to 6.5 inches long, Orchard Orioles are small for orioles, they are the smallest oriole in North America.

Almost everything about this oriole is small and compact. It has a short straight bill (at least by oriole standards), and a rather short and straight tail.

Male Orchard Oriole

The adult male oriole is chestnut brown overall, with a black hood.

Adult females have olive-green upper-parts and yellowish underparts.

There are two white wingbars.

First summer males are similar to females but have a black bib and face.

Some show a variable amount of chestnut feathers on the breast. First summer males sing and may mate successfully.

While adult male Orchard Orioles are distinctive, females may be mistaken for a number of birds, including warblers.

Range and Habitat:

They range over much of the United States and southern Canada from the Great Plains east to the Atlantic Ocean. They are locally common in suburban shade trees and orchards.

Their song is a lively warbling with a wide pitch range, ending in a distinctive, ringing pli titi zheeeer. The common call of the male is a clear whistled tweeo. Calls also include a low, soft chut.

Orchard Orioles are widely distributed breeders east of the Rocky Mountains that show a distinct preference for riparian zones, floodplains, marshes, shorelines of rivers and lakes.

Interestingly enough, they also often nest in shade trees, open fields with scattered shrubs and trees and even orchards.


Nesting occurs in a wide variety of habitat types throughout its range including: rural and suburban areas with scattered trees, pastures or prairies with trees, large planted trees around homes, river valleys, and orchards.

Preferred nesting trees include Cottonwood, Ash, Willows, and Red cedar. Compared to Baltimore Orioles they prefer smaller, shorter trees that are more densely spaced for nesting. Nests are often attached to the fork of a twig or branch away form the main trunk.

The nest is suspended from the forked twig or branch like that of a Baltimore Oriole, but is not as deep in structure.

It is woven over about 6 days and built by the female. Very often, the nests are within 100 feet of water.

Orchard Orioles are common hosts of Brown-headed Cowbirds throughout its range, and in some areas of the country, over half of the Orchard Oriole nests are parasitized by cowbirds.

A recent study also found them breeding in the thorn forest of Baja California and the coast of Sinaloa during the summer "monsoon"; this region had previously been thought to be only a migratory stopover.

The nest is a tightly woven pouch attached to a fork on a horizontal branch. Their nests tend to sit close together.

The female does all the incubation but the male often guards the nest and will feed the female while she incubates.

She lays 4 to 7 eggs light blue with dark markings where she will incubate the eggs for 12 to 14 days.

Both parents feed to nestlings. They fledge in another 12 to 14 days and both parents continue to feed them for another few weeks.

Diet Habit:

This bird is mainly insectivorous, but will also eat fruit, small seeds and nectar during summer. A large percent of its diet is grasshoppers and crickets, spiders and beetles. In North America they have been seen feeding on the nectar of flowering trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans).

During fall migration they feed heavily on fruits, and on the wintering grounds they commonly consume nectar and pollen. They have been seen feeding at hummingbird feeders. They typically select ripe fruit, which passes through their digestive tract quickly.


Orchard Orioles depart from their winter habitats in March and April and arrive in their breeding habitats from late April to late May. Usually, they leave their breeding territories in late July and early August and arrive on their winter territories in mid August.

These birds are nocturnal migrants.

Side Bar:

Like many Neotropical migrants, these birds mostly migrate at night. Many are trans-gulf migrants, and tend to arrive a bit later than most other oriole species on their breeding grounds in the spring. There are records of birds being killed at TV towers during spring and fall migration.

Baltimore Orioles

Bullock's Orioles

Orchard Orioles and other Backyard Birds

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