Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles & Northern Orioles: Family Ties

Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles & Northern Orioles: Family Ties

Orioles are beautiful birds with bright vivid colors, usually in the range of  yellow to orange. Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles, Northern Orioles and Orchard Orioles are the most common to see at backyard feeders. Interestingly, Orioles are members of the Black Bird Family. Many people don’t realize that because their colors are so vividly bright.


Baltimore Orioles + Bullock’s Orioles = Northern Orioles?

Oriole by Kevin Ayrault Backyard Bird-Watching & Feeders
Northern Oriole by Kevin Ayrault

Baltimore Orioles and Bullock’s Orioles are so closely related, that they were considered the same species for many years. In fact, they are so closely related that they freely breed in the Grasslands of the Great Plains. The hybrid birds from those unconventional unions are the Northern Orioles. Like people, they have features of both parents, but unlike us, they are hard to distinguish from each other.

Behavior of Orioles

Let’s focus on the Northern Orioles behavior, since they are similar to both the Baltimore Orioles and Bullock’s Orioles.

Courting and Love Songs

Oriole - Morning Song my Jon Trzepacz, Pelican Lane Arts
Morning Song, Bullock’s Oriole, by Jan Trzepacz,

Courting Displays start with the male chasing the female. They then go into a beautiful bowing display and song-flight.

Orioles have a beautiful, mellow song. They sing for love. The males court the females with their rich melodic whistled songs. The females also sing, but only after they are paired with a male.

Egg Laying and Incubation

Nest are placed in the top limbs of trees and are built by the female. She lays 4-6 eggs, one per day. After the last eggs are laid, they are incubated for 11-14 days.


Northern OriolesOriole chick in nest - 512px-Baltimore_Oriole_chicks_in_NY by Juliancolton CC Wikimedia
Oriole Chicks, by Julian Colton, CC Wikimedia

Babies! The Northern Oriole nestlings remain in the nest for 12-14 days after hatching. As they grow older, they call out louder and louder for dinner. When they are preparing to leave the nest, the nestlings climb in and out of the it, clinging to the outside of the nest.


Fledglings are very noisy, sort of like teenagers. They follow their parents around, begging loudly, The parents are kind enough to feed them for a week or more. The females leave the males to take care of the fledglings for a week or two as she starts molting. I guess that is only fair, since she did the laying and nesting.

To learn more about molting, the All About Birds blog post, “The Basics: Feather Molt”, is an excellent resource.


Bullock's Oriole by Kevin Ayrault Backyard Bird-Watching & Feeders 3
Bullock’s Oriole by Kevin Ayrault

Once the Nothern Oriole fledglings are independent, they start to migrate south in August and early September, as do the females. The male stays in the territory to molt. He migrates south in the late summer, usually late September.

Northern Orioles customarily winter in Central America and Northern South America. However, increasingly more Northern Orioles winter in North America along the Atlantic coast.

In April, the migration north starts again, and they are at their breeding ground by mid to late May.

What’s for Dinner?

Backyard Feeders

Bullock's Oriole at hummingbird feeder #1 by Jan Trzepacz
Thoughts of a Bird #1, Bullock’s Oriole, by Jan Trzepacz

Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles and Northern Orioles all love nectar feeders like hummingbird feeders. While a hummingbird feeders may do the trick, many bird watchers provide a feeder specifically designed for Orioles. The Oriole feeders are generally orange with a saucer for nectar and holes that are slightly larger than hummingbird feeders. Also, the sugar water/nectar needs to be slightly more diluted than that for hummingbirds. Use 6 parts water for 1 part sugar, instead of the 4 parts to 1 part that hummers like.


Bullock's Oriole at hummingbird feeder #2 by Jan Trzepacz
Thoughts of a Bird #2, Bullock’s Oriole, by Jan Trzepacz

Orioles also love fruit, hence orchards are part of their habitat. For backyard feeding, oranges cut in half are often nailed to a tree or put on a special fruit feeder. They are also partial to grape jelly. I don’t know why grape is their flavor of choice, but it definitely is. Suet and cornmeal-fat mixtures are favorites in winter. Also, they like peanut butter and seeds.

Tubular flowers for sipping nectar draws them to gardens. Orioles are partial to the flowers of agaves, aloes, hibiscus, and lilies, as well as other tubular flowers.

Natural Sources of Food

So, other than fruit, what do Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles and Northern Orioles eat in the wild? They primarily eat seeds and insects, including destructive insects such as hairy caterpillars. The decrease of problem insects is a real benefit to gardeners.

Of course, they also search out wild flowers that are sources of natural nectar.

Rock-a-bye Baby, In the Tree Top

Altamira_Oriole_HarmonyonPlanetEarth CC Wikimedia
Oriole Nest by Harmony on Planet Earth, CC Wikimedia

The nests of the Northern Orioles are not only unusual in themselves, but are placed in unique places. The nests are elongated pouches built by the female. They are made of plant fibers and grasses loosely woven together in no apparent pattern. The birds may accept neutral-colored string or twine, 8-12 inches long, for their nests if it is laid out for them.

The nests hang at the tip of high, swaying branches. Orioles are sometimes referred to as Hammock Birds because of their fascinating hanging nests. The nests are so high in the trees that they are not usually visible to the eye until the trees lose their leaves in the fall.

Bright, Bright Colors and Field Marks


Baltimore Oriole Male, by Rob McGuffin

Males of all three, Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles and Northern Orioles, have highly noticeable bright orange or yellow breasts and tails. Some distinguishing differences between the males of the species include:

  • Bullock’s Orioles have a unique black line through the eye, a black throat and a large white wing patch.
  • Baltimore Orioles have an entirely black head and back with an orange rump and outer tail feathers
  • Northern Orioles have black wings with white bars and a black head.


Baltimore Orioles Female, Photo by Rob McGuffin
Baltimore Oriole Female, by Rob McGuffin

Females tend to not be quite as brightly colored, which of course is common in the bird world. Differences between the species females include:

  • Bullock’s Orioles have a yellowish-orange head, a grayish back, a whitish belly and white wing bars.
  • Baltimore Orioles heads vary from brownish to yellowish, and they have a yellow chest and tail.
  • Northern Orioles have olive brown backs and heads, yellow to orange breast and brownish wings with white bars.

Where’s Home?

So, where do they live? Mostly, over the entirety of the US, stretching across the borders both north and south.

Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles and Northern Orioles like similar habitats. They reside in open woodlands, riverside forests, parks, gardens, shade trees and orchards. Oh, and don’t forget backyards, especially ones with feeders, water, shelter and tall trees for them to nest in.

Bullock’s Orioles and Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Oriole by Kevin Ayrault Backyard Bird-Watching & Feeders 4
Baltimore Oriole by Kevin Ayrault

Think of a US map and divide it down the middle, with a little overlap. The Baltimore Orioles live mostly in Eastern US, excluding some SE coastal states. Bullock’s Orioles chiefly take the Western US, including the Rocky Mountains. Stretch both territories into Southern Canada and Northern Mexico, and you’ve got the territories of the Baltimore Orioles and Bullock’s Orioles, covering all the US except one corner.

Northern Orioles

Northern Oriole-in-tree-by-Rob-McGuffin
Northern Oriole by Rob McGuffin

So where do the two Oriole species get together to create the hybrid, Northern Orioles? Right down the middle, from the Great Plains states of Montana to part of Texas. Throw in the plains of Southern Canada, and you’re looking at the crossover plains where the hybrid Northern Orioles come from.  They share features and traits of both parents, Baltimore Orioles and Bullock’s Orioles.


Orioles are beautiful, beautiful birds. While I only covered the Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles and Northern Orioles in this article, keep in mind that there are many more in addition to those three. Other Orioles include the Orchard Orioles, Hooded Orioles, Streak-backed Orioles, Spot-breasted Orioles, Altamira Orioles and Scott’s Orioles. They have even been called Firebirds, English Robins and Golden Robins.

I especially love the name, Firebird.  It fits so well. They are all fascinating, beautiful, vividly colorful birds.

For more information about Orioles, I recommend the the Stokes Oriole Book, available on Amazon.    Donald and Lillian are America’s First Family of Birding, bloggers, and authors of over 30 best-sellers.  For your convenience, I have attache links to Amazon for the Stokes Oriole Book and Oriole Feeder.

Photo Credits

Feature/Cover Baltimore Oriole photo and 3 other original photos submitted by photographer Rob McGuffin, member of Facebook group: Backyard Bird-Watching & Feeders

3 original photos submitted by photographer Kevin Ayrault, member of FaceBook group: Backyard Bird-Watching & Feeders

3 original photos submitted by photographer Jan Trzepacz, Pelican Lane Arts, photography site located at this FaceBook page link, and member of FaceBook group: Feeder Birds.

Rob, Kevin and Jan: Thank for freely offering your original photos for this blog article.

Public photos used in the blog:

Baltimore Oriole Chicks, by Julian Colton, at CC Wikimedia link.

Altamira Oriole Nest by Harmony on Planet Earth at CC Wikimedia link.


I hope you have enjoyed “Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles and Northern Orioles: Family Ties”.  If you have questions, or want to share your experiences and stories about Orioles, please leave a comment. I promise to answer every comment.

If you would like to read more articles from the Bird Watching Made Easy blog, follow this Index link.

Happy Bird Watching,

JoAnn Timberlake

Author of Bird Watching Made Easy

Admin of the FaceBook group, Backyard Bird Watching Crew

Attract More Birds > Enjoy More Bird Watching


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