Thanks to subscriber Nancy Coolley for photographing this stunning Baltimore oriole [Icterus galbula] in her backyard. Look at the clever rig Nancy devised for hanging the oranges. Great idea! And after they eat the oranges in early May, they want a chaser of grape jelly, but how in the world do you hang up the jar?
This bird has probably the prettiest nest of all our northern birds. It’s a finely-woven silvery pouch that hangs about 25′ up on the branches of oaks, lindens, elms, maples and birch trees. The Orioles return to the same site year after year. These birds love to eat insects, especially caterpillars (ie tent caterpillars-ugh), aphids, borers (ash borers!), ants and beetles. They also eat the delicious berries of Serviceberry [Amelanchier], red mulberry, wild cherry, and blueberry. By the way, the blueberry is a highly underutilized shrub in the landscape. It is beautiful red in the fall!
The Baltimore oriole is the state bird of Maryland. Why? Because it was named for Sir George Calvert, the first Lord Baron of Baltimore, who thought Maryland (named either for the King’s wife or the mother of Jesus, or both, no one seems to know) would be a fine place for English Catholics such as himself. The colors on his family crest were…orange and black. As it would happen, everyone who arrived from England to work tobacco was either Protestant or criminal, but the English Catholics got to be in charge. Anyway, the good news is that in 1649, Maryland passed the first law ever to guarantee the right to worship regardless of denomination. So whenever you see this beautiful bird, please also appreciate the idea of religious toleration.
Oh, there are three books I like about “birdscaping”: Wild About Birds: the DNR Bird Feeding Guide; Birdscaping Your Garden by George Adams; and The Bird Garden by Stephen W. Kress. Oldies but goodies, just like me.##