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For years I wanted to have orioles at the feeders. I tried oriole feeders with sugar water mixture but only got hummingbirds visiting. I put out oranges only to watch them dry up in the summer heat. I could hear and see the orioles all around. But none came to feed! Super frustrating. So I’ll share my method to attract orioles. But first we need to do some oriole 101 homework.

We need to understand oriole feeding behavior in order to attract them. Orioles favor insects in the early spring, when few fruits or flowers are available. This is choice food to feed young since bugs have a high protein content. Organic gardeners pay attention to this – they will feed on many types of insects but they are actually quite fond of the hairier caterpillars that most birds avoid. For example – fall web worm, gypsy moth and tent caterpillar. They actually tear open these webs to get to the bugs.

As fruits become available on their breeding grounds they start feeding on such things as raspberries, elderberries, June berries, mulberries and chokecherries. They will also consume oranges and other citrus fruits. North American orioles are regular consumers of nectar. In this area, they love trumpet vine. They do not feed like a hummingbird but rather by gaping. They pierce the bottom of a flower and pry open the gap and rob the nectar from the flower. Unfortunately, the flower does not get pollinated since the orioles bypass the its sexual parts. Seeds, in general, are ignored.

So how do we attract these birds? Well, you won’t see them visiting your seed feeders but rather the nectar feeders. Sugar water mixtures make an easy substitute for nectar. To mimic natural nectar use 1/6 to 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup water. Make stronger solutions in the cooler months to provide bird energy and weaker solutions in hot weather to prevent dehydration. Never use honey since this mixture will promote bacterial growth and might sicken the birds. Even with sugar water be sure to change the solutions frequently especially in hot weather.

Male and Female Northern Oriole on sugar water feeder

Standard hummingbird feeders can be used but with orioles being heavier and larger than hummingbirds it is best to use oriole feeders. My favorite oriole feeders are sold at Wild bird unlimited because you can handily add fruit and grape jelly in specially molded wells, as well. I found that my orioles really did not care for oranges but absolutely went crazy for grape jelly (not jam).

So the first rule of attraction is to offer what they love to eat. The next consideration is placement of the feeders. This is where I had been wrong all those years trying to attract and keep orioles to the feeders. I would place the feeders in a tree and hoped the birds would find it. WRONG. You need to make the placement of the feeder really obvious. Observe where the birds are resting, congregating or eating. Put your feeder right in their flight pathway and make the feeder as visible as possible. Orange attracts these birds. Place your feeder on a gardening hook and wind orange wool or marking tape all over it. Make sure you have lots of food to entice them to eat. Don’t fool around. Give them sugar water, oranges and GRAPE JELLY.

Male Northern Oriole on jelly feeder

Once they start frequenting the feeder move it 2 feet every other day until your have the feeder in the desired location. By this point it does not matter if the location of the feeder is obvious since the orioles have learned where it is. They will teach their fledglings the location and other orioles will observe the location just by the activity of orioles around it. The hardest part is to keep up with the jelly filling. I go through a large economy sized jar in days. But it is worth it to have my morning cup of coffee with them!

One word of caution. To stop hummingbird/oriole wars pair up the feeders. Place these feeders in the same area but be sure to provide enough spacing to enable safe, stress free feeding.

Happy oriole watching.

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