Baby Orioles: Lots to Learn

This adult oriole has mastered a LOT of important skills.
Photo courtesy of Chandler Robbins
Learning By Day
Baby orioles spend most of their time searching for food and eating as they grow independent. The baby orioles develop a keen eye for movement, which helps them to notice caterpillars and other tasty insects and spiders. They also get good at recognizing berries and fruits. It doesn't take long to learn which ones are sweet and which taste sour or bitter. But they won't have to learn everything the hard way. They hang out with their families and start associating with other orioles in small flocks. Experienced birds head off to the yummiest fruit trees, and the younger ones follow.

Learning By Night
During the night, young orioles mostly sleep. But sometimes they sit wide awake on their branches, looking at the sky. What are they thinking about? We don't know, but we do know that they look at the stars. They notice a very important thing: Most of the stars seem to move in the sky, but the north star holds still. This important knowledge will help them navigate during migration.

As summer days grow shorter in August, the birds get restless. After napping a bit at sundown, they'll suddenly wake up and head south, flying high enough that they won't bonk into hills and trees in the dark. After a night of migrating, they'll be extra hungry in the morning! Autumn days are filled with eating and resting, and sometimes making low flights in the right direction (south) as they wend their way between feeding trees.

A Dangerous Year
Sadly, most of this year's babies won't be around next year to see their first birthday. MANY things can kill an oriole:

  • Many birds get their heads caught in horsehair or other nesting fibers that strangle them while building a nest.
  • At least one Baltimore Oriole was electrocuted when perched on an electrical wire.
  • Orioles sometimes die by flying accidentally into communications towers during nighttime migration.
  • Many are killed by flying into windows because they see trees and sky reflected and don't realize the glass is a barrier.
  • Orioles are also attacked and eaten by Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Goshawks, Merlins, American Kestrels, and Peregrine Falcons.

How Long to Live?
Orioles that pay close attention to slight movements not only get the most food, but also will be most likely to detect and escape from predators. Of those, the birds that are smart enough to figure out the dangers of windows and towers will be the ones most likely to live a full year. And birds that do live a full year suddenly have a much longer life expectancy. The oldest known wild Baltimore Oriole wearing a band on its leg was re-found when it was at least 11 years and 7 months old. And the oldest banded Bullock's Oriole on record lived 6 years, 1 month. Does this mean Baltimore Orioles live five years longer than Bullock's Orioles? Nope! Only about 1% of all banded birds are ever found again. Many of these are not trapped alive. Instead, they're mostly found dead at windows, under communications towers, and near roads. That means 99% of all orioles are never caught again. This includes many that have probably lived longer than either of the record-setting Bullocks or Baltimore Orioles reported. To learn more about bird banding and what it teaches us about birds, see:

Try This! Journaling Question
  • Imagine YOU are a young oriole, starting out on your own in the big world. Which would you be—a Bullock's Oriole or a Baltimore Oriole? Why? (Think about their range maps and what you've learned in other Journey North reports.) What would be the best things about your days? The worst? The scariest? Would you love flying, or do you think it would get boring?