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Oriole Migration Update: May 17, 2001

Today's Report Includes:

Orioles Surge Forth!
This week's Migration Data are provided below--9 new Bullock's and 108 new Baltimore sightings! You can make your own migration map, or print and analyze ours.

The orioles keep coming! Many Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles are reaching their nesting grounds, and the migration is nearly complete. Some oriole watchers in the mountains and in the north are still patiently waiting, and some southern oriole watchers are still feasting on late migrants, but soon orioles will be settling in and nesting, producing a whole new batch of new little orioles. Reports like the following are proof!

On May 16, one reporter in Madison, Wisconsin (al@ccands.com), reported seeing at least 33 orioles in one city park. Meanwhile, on the same day, this happy news came from Alberta, Canada: "The first Baltimores were seen in Calgary today!" (potoo@home.com)

As orioles settle in and work out their territorial arrangements, they hunker down to the serious business of raising a family. Every oriole starts its life in an egg, and every adult oriole works hard to ensure new eggs will populate the oriole world forever.

Try This! Visualization Activity

Imagine being locked in a tiny, oval-shaped room for 2 weeks. At first the walls are cushioned with a goopy liquid, and you're stuck in the middle. There is no food, but you don't notice. You never feel the least bit hungry. The room seems huge at first, but as the days go by, the walls seem to close in. Or is it that you're growing bigger? You're cozy and comfortable at first, but after 10 or 11 days, you start feeling cramped. The goopy walls have been drying up somehow, and they now feel a little hard. You've been curled up for so long, and suddenly you yearn to stretch. You twist your body around, maybe trying to find a more comfortable position, and instinctively scratch on the walls with a hard bump on your beak. Somehow that gives you a satisfying feeling, and you do it some more. Your eyes are closed, but you sense a tiny ray of light seeping in where you've been scratching. You stretch, and with a crack, the walls suddenly break apart. In an instant the room is flooded with light. You're tired, but determined. Little by little you stretch and twist, and suddenly the walls of the room fall away. You find yourself snuggled against a warm tummy and some hard round shapes. But one of them suddenly falls apart, and suddenly you're right next to a bald, wet, little baby oriole. A baby oriole just like you!

Oriole Eggs and Babies: Some Fun Questions!

Baltimore Oriole Eggs
Photo copyright by
Todd Ratermann

Now that you've "hatched," look at these oriole eggs, and think about the magical process taking place inside each one. What are your answers to these questions?

The average weight of an oriole egg is 2.99 grams. The average weight of the empty shell is 0.20 grams.

1. How much does all the stuff inside the egg weigh?
2. If a newly-hatched oriole weighs 2.00 grams, what do you think happened to the other 0.79 grams?

How many days does it take a baby oriole to reach its fledging weight of about 34 grams? How many times an hour from sunrise to sunset do the parents come to the nest to feed the babies so they can reach this weight? If an 8-pound human baby grew at the same rate as an oriole, what would it weigh after 12 days? The good news is that you'll find the answers to ALL the challenging questions above by going to this page:

Dr. Aborn's Weather Forecast for the Birds

Dr. David Aborn

"Yet another spring migration is coming to a close, at least for some," wrote David in his last Journey North weather forecast of this season. He tells about weather systems that have meant good sightings in several states, and says, "The grand prize, however, goes to New York. Many areas of the state reported 26 species of warblers! Just to show that you don't have to live in the country to see these birds, Central Park and Prospect Park in the center of New York City were two of the locations reporting 26 species of warblers. With many areas becoming developed, city parks are becoming safe places for birds to land and feed during migration, and are often great places to see migrants."

But things have been slow for David and other people in the southern US, where migration is coming to an end. David reminds us, "Most of the birds have left the tropics and are making their way north to breed. Also, there won't be any fronts to force stragglers to land. This does not mean there won't be anything to see! Many warblers, thrushes, vireos, and other migrants breed in the south, so go out and look for them and listen to their songs. For people farther north, things are reaching their peak. The birds we have been enjoying in the south are just reaching areas farther north, so look for things to be active for another few weeks. In fact, there is another cold front that is moving across the northern US and southern Canada, so folks in the upper Midwest, mid-Atlantic, and New England should have another few good days of birding."

David closes by saying: "I hope you have enjoyed these weather reports, and have learned how amazing bird migration is. I know I am always fascinated by it, and I enjoy teaching others about migration. I also hope that you have been learning about the things you can do to help migratory birds so we can all enjoy them for many years to come. Have a great summer!"

Journey North says a heartfelt THANKS to David Aborn for helping us interpret and forecast the oriole migration this spring, and for the great Challenge Questions he asks! Find the weather maps and read more about David's forecast and the wonderful migratory bird species reported in David's complete letter:

Try This! Comparing Migrations
How does the oriole migration of Spring 2001 compare with the migration of Spring 2000? A glance at the maps tells the story.

Spring, 2000

Spring, 2001

Here's how to compare the two migrations:

Read the legend and scan the maps. What differences do you notice?

2. Give a verbal description of the Spring 2001 migration, such as:

  • The spring, 2001 migration appears to be (ahead/behind) of the Spring 2000 migration.

  • You can see this by describing where the sightings were during a particular week in 2000 compared to the same week in 2001. For example: "During the week of April 24-30 in 2000, the orioles were seen as far north as ____ and inland at ______. In that same week in 2001 the orioles had been seen as far north as______ and inland at _______."

3. Summarize your observations and draw conclusions.


Teacher Tip: Communicating Research Results
One of the most important steps in a scientist's work is sharing research results with other scientists. This is how the body of scientific knowledge is built--and how it constantly changes, as new research findings replace the old.

As a way to sum up and show your learning this spring, write your own scientific paper based on the Oriole migration that's just finishing. Journey North offers this lesson to guide students through the steps of writing a real scientific paper:

Befriend the Birds

Throughout the season, we've had some great messages from all of you oriole watchers. Here's one:

"I started getting orioles in the spring of 1999 when they first showed up at my Hummingbird feeders. Since that time I have put Oriole feeders out, along with grape jelly, oranges and horse hair for their nesting materials. My goal is to keep them coming back, and supply food and nesting materials for them as long as I'm able. I am continuing to make my farm yard more bird-friendly each year." Jillaine Mackenthum, Brownton, MN

Jillaine's helpful hints for attracting orioles are great! If you don't happen to have a horse handy like Jillaine does, orioles also use dog fur--especially from longer-haired breeds like golden retrievers and spaniels. These natural fibers are waterproof, shrinkproof, and easy for orioles to manage for nest building. And to help your orioles' great-great-great grandchildren, consider planting a disease-resistant elm tree for them to nest in!

You'll find whatever you need to know--ways to attract orioles as well as lists of nest building materials, oriole treats, and recipes for your feeder--here:

Duking it Out
Gary Phillips of Conway, SC got a report that a pair of Baltimore Orioles is hanging around someone's house, "and the male is duking it out with his reflection in the homeowner's car side-view mirror!"

Laura Erickson explains what's REALLY going on, and offers a solution so the oriole won't hurt himself: "Orioles are attracted to the color orange, whether it is on a piece of fruit, another oriole, or a reflected image. The worst problem with reflections is that when the territorial male bird sees his image and puts on an aggressive posture, he sees the reflection matching his level of aggression step by step, continually increasing the intensity of his response. Fortunately, car mirrors are small enough that it's not hard to tape up a piece of cardboard or paper over them when the car isn't in use.

Milkweed's Not Just for Monarchs

If you think milkweed is just for monarchs, we had a sighting that will make you think again! Last year Marcy Cunkelman, who lives near Clarksburg, PA, saw Mama Oriole peeling the milkweed for strips of fibers for the nest. Check out this photo to see what milkweed fiber looks like. You can see how it would be good nest building material. Keep your eyes open to milkweed in your own neighborhood--and spread the news about how milkweed helps both monarchs AND orioles!

The Fun is Just Beginning

Get Set for Summer Observations
Photo courtesy Provincial Museum of Alberta.

This is our FINAL oriole migration update this spring, but the fun of oriole watching is just beginning. As orioles settle into their nesting routines, many of you will be settling into summer vacation routines. You might want to follow around your neighborhood orioles to see what you can see!

To find oriole nests, listen to their songs and then follow their movements. Orioles prefer nesting in large shade trees. Their nests may be in very high branches, but are usually on the outer twigs, so it's sometimes possible to watch them. (Use your binoculars and watch from a distance so you don't "tip off" any oriole predators.) Print off your own list of things you might look for:

And don't forget to learn the songs of the orioles that breed in your geographic area:

A Swift Trip: Discussion of Challenge Question #6
Last time we asked you to compare the migrations of orioles and hummingbirds: "Why do you think orioles push northward during a single week in late April or early May, while hummingbirds gradually move northward for 8-10 weeks from March to mid-May?"

Hummingbirds eat a wide variety of tiny flying insects swarming about the tips of newly budding branches, and they also feed on the sap from sapsucker borings. So even if the weather is unpredictable, they can count on plenty of food when they first arrive. Orioles require much larger insects, such as caterpillars, which don't hatch until buds emerge. So orioles must wait until leaf-out. By then, their hormones are urging them forward so they can set up their territories and start nesting, so they move north FAST!

How Orioles Fill the Bill: Discussion of Challenge Question #7
Last time we talked about gaping. We asked, "Look in a field guide at the bills of orioles, Red-winged Blackbirds, starlings, and other birds that gape. What do their bills have in common? How does the shape of their bills help with gaping?"

Did you notice that all these beaks are stout at the base, but pointed at the tip? The shape itself is ideal for poking into something, and the base's thick attachment to facial muscles, plus its triangular shape, make it more powerful in opening against outer pressure.

Handy Beaks: Discussion of Challenge Question #8
Last time we asked, "For what other uses does an oriole need its beak? Name as many uses as you can. How does the beak shape help with the uses you named?"

All bird beaks have to serve as a mouth and nose. Most also serve as hands. And what does an oriole need "hands" for? With your help, we've come up with this list:
  • Picking and opening food. "Besides ripping and digging, the oriole's curved beak helps it pry open fruits & nuts." (relluhcs@netscape.net) And "To get insects out of a tree." (TriplSara@netscape.net) The general shape of an oriole's beak--not too long, not too short, not too fat, not too thin--is designed for a general diet, which is exactly what orioles eat! Orioles can't pry open the strongest nuts, or catch the quickest flying insects, but their all-purpose beak allows them to eat a wide range of food, from insects to fruit.

  • Self-defense. Any bander who has held an oriole knows what kind of a wallop that beak can pack!

  • Bathing and preening feathers.

  • Feeding little baby orioles.

  • Home construction. The beak "helps make the nest the shape they need." (TriplSara@netscape.net) The beak's slender shape is probably very useful in threading fibers through that tightly woven bag!

Year-End Evaluation: Please Share Your Thoughts!
Please take a few minutes to share your suggestions and comments in our Year-End Evaluation Form below. The information you provide at the end of each year is the single most important tool used to guide our planning.

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Year End Evaluation
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This is the FINAL Oriole Migration Update. Enjoy your backyard birds all summer, with best wishes from Journey North for great birdwatching. We hope you'll be back next year to learn more about weather and migration, oriole stewardship, and tracking the migration!

Copyright 2001 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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