By Sharon Merkel-Prudhomme ~
Growing up in North Jersey on a dead end with lots of great woods and a babbling brook was better than Disney World in our minds. Tracking animals, Have-A-Hart traps, bird feeders, befriending raccoons to join us at our woodshed table for a pan of Gravy Train, building bird feeders and houses kept us busy with nature on a daily basis. My mom, what a trooper, always put up with the many baby birds, snakes and mice I’d bring home. My pop was the biggest influence when it came to the outdoors. He helped me learn the names of all the local trees, giving me a small book of trees his pop had given him. Maybe his side of the family made a big impression on me as they were all about animals even owning a private zoo in Mendham, NJ long before importation laws came about. Mom would get upset when Uncle Bobs’ spider monkey would poop down the back of my velvet dresses on holiday visits!
Birds were dear to both sides of our family. Moms’ mom in the Audubon Society, kept journals and entries in her soft covered bird books-date, time and location of sightings. Her book and entries traveled the United States with Nana. One particular bird I found so cool is the Baltimore Oriole! A returning pair of these colorful orange and blackbirds wove their “sock” (yes sock) up in our huge tulip poplar tree in the front yard. It amazed me to see this woven piece of wonder hanging high up on a branch.
The Oriole is actually a member of the blackbird family. These beautiful feathered guys are a little smaller & thinner than a robin with a sturdy body. These brightly colored songbirds apparently were named after the 17th Century Lord Baltimore as they carried the same colors as his coat of arms. At one time they were populating in great numbers from east of the Great Plains in open wooded areas and residential treed areas. It has been found that their numbers have dropped considerably in the past 30 years. It is believed they favored Elm trees and years ago during the Dutch Elm blight, which took out many Elms, assisted in their decline.
I’m reading now there is a drastic decline in many of our songbirds. I believe it is due to the crazy amount of pesticides and lawn care chemicals that are ingested and absorbed by the plants and bugs which as bird food contaminate and kill off our many birds and other insects. (Lightening bugs and katydids in horrible decline.)
Orioles are unique feeders. Like most birds, the orange beauty’s feed on insects but are voracious lovers of fresh oranges and grape jelly! (Although catbirds love it too!) If you’re lucky enough to have them visit, try cutting oranges to hang thus keeping them coming back. Aside from insects, jelly and oranges, their diet is varied to include: berries, caterpillars, wasps, spiders and snails. They’ll also drink nectar from flowers and sugar-water feeders too! Quite the culinary array!
The “sock” or pouch is usually built or woven by the female with little help from her mate. She uses anything she can weave with, attaching her support strongly to a branch by winding around and around. This weaver actually pokes an end of a fiber through, pulls from the other side and continues for hours. The construction takes about 2 weeks to complete! These deep hanging nests help to protect from predators, insects and Cowbirds who NEVER build their own nest, but lay their eggs in other nests!
Results are odd when seeing a tiny sparrow raising a big fat Cowbird chick! Nests are found with everything from plant fibers, strings, ribbons, strips of bark, grapevines, yarn, Spanish moss, etc. using hair and fine grass. They’ll build anywhere from 6 ft. to 60 ft. from the ground. Mrs. Oriole will lay 3-5 (occasionally up to 6) whitish-grey eggs with black & brown speckles usually seen on the wider end. Mom sits on her eggs for roughly 12-14 days. Both male and females feed the chicks and see them off and out of the nest by about 14 days!
Migration is seen rather early and always as most, in flocks as early as July and August. I usually clean and store my suet feeder in summer. Suet is great for extra fat for birds in cold, lean winters, but in hot summers the suet goes rancid and grossly drippy when melting. Yuck! However, keep the little wire cages out! Slice oranges and place 2 slices back to back, juicy side out and hang. Do you have an S-hook for hanging plants? Poke and slide a slab of orange on one end and hang from a branch with the other, making a simple quick Oriole feeder.
I’ve got a heart-shaped wrought iron plant hanger. With a few simple modifications, I made my own bird feeder. Bingo! A “free” bird feeder instead of paying the enormous fees at the store!
You will enjoy the antics if you are lucky enough to have the Orioles hang out. But don’t get discouraged, the catbirds will LOVE you for the extra treats too! I often have 4 catbirds on at once. Birding is perfect for all ages. Especially during a pandemic? We all have birds, no matter where you live. Kids can look up each bird they see, draw pictures, collect feathers, learn to identify various bird calls, etc.
There are several birding sites for most counties. One nationwide group is https://ebird.org/, a local FB group I follow and joined is Birding in Ocean County, NJ. This is a fun one as you can read notes and sightings from people everywhere. Also you may enter your county and follow or add your sightings as well. Facebook has a couple of great pages of fellow birders. Don’t know your birds? These sights and the many friendly bird happy followers will assist you and answer questions.