Few birds have the flash of the Oriole family, a streak of brilliant orange, gold, or yellow across the sky. Orioles are not overly common in Oakmont, but they do show up here and even nest, and are worth getting to know. They don’t look much like any other bird in our area, which makes them an easy ID.
The species you’re most likely to see in Oakmont is the Hooded Oriole, so-called for the male bird’s golden-orange hood, accentuated by a black facemask and bib. The males have a glowing golden-orange body, black wings with white bars, and long black tails. The female is a duller, washed-out version of the male, without the black mask. Both are about the size of a robin, but more slender. They have longish, slightly down-curved black beaks.
Hooded Orioles arrive here in the spring from their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. A century ago, they came only as far north as Southern California, but their range has now expanded – the reason being palm trees. Hooded Orioles prefer to nest in Washingtonia and Sabal palms, weaving nests that hang under the fan-shaped fronds. As these ornamental palms gained popularity in Northern California landscaping, the Orioles moved north right along with them. If there are palms in your neighborhood, watch the crowns – you may see the golden flash of an Oriole flying in and out.
Hooded Orioles like to vary their main diet of insects with fruit and nectar. Occasionally you’ll see one struggling awkwardly with a hummingbird feeder to get at the sugar syrup. You can try luring them into your yard by offering grape jelly, which they find irresistible. Use whatever brand is cheap, with no additives. Birding stores sell special oriole feeders with little indentations where you put the jelly.
These Orioles aren’t known for their songs, though both males and females do sing. More frequently heard is their soft scratchy chatter. You may see them in pairs, flying to and from their palm tree, chattering about their day.
Interested in joining the Oakmont team for the 2021 Madrone Audubon Society’s “Bird-a-Thon,” April 22–24? You can bird in your yard and report your results, or join a birding group on Friday, April 23. We’ll be aiming to beat last year’s total of 80+ species spotted in and around Oakmont. All levels welcome. Contact Carolyn Greene for details: firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 443-7289.
Like birds and bird watching? Join the Oakmont Birders mailing list by contacting email@example.com. Share what you’re seeing. Questions about birds? Want a “Birds Seen in Oakmont” checklist? Send an e-mail.
Male Hooded Oriole (All photos courtesy of Tom Grey)
Female Hooded Oriole