The Bullock’s Oriole is a brilliantly colored songbird that passes through Edmonds in small numbers in spring migration, usually in May. It favors riparian habitat and has been seen around the Edmonds marsh and along Shell Creek in Yost Park, among other locations. It has even been reported in residential gardens. It is considered an uncommon migrant and summer resident of Western Washington. It is more common in Eastern Washington. Look for it in tall cottonwoods when you are near rivers or streams. It can also be found in orchards, ranch yards, or in any stand of mature trees.
Insects and arthropods are a staple of the Bullock’s Oriole diet. This bird forages nimbly in the canopy of open woodlands in the U.S. West. It gleans insects from tree trunks, branches, and leaves, by hopping and fluttering. It will hang upside down, stretching its neck to take prey. It will also pluck insects from a spider webs. It consumes a wide variety of insects, the most common being caterpillars, crickets, and grasshoppers, This oriole also consumes fruit and nectar. Its preferred fruits include blackberries, raspberries, cherries and figs. It seeks nectar from agaves and from introduced eucalyptus trees among others. It employs a method called gaping to extract juice from fruit. It thrusts its closed bill through the flesh of a fruit, pries its bill open and then laps up the pooling juice with its brushy tongue.
When courting a female, the male Bullock’s Oriole will hop from branch to branch, bowing every second or so. He accompanies this display with loud singing and exposure of his flame-colored plumage. During nest building and territory disputes, the female will display by quivering her wings while holding her body in a horizontal position.
The female weaves a nest of fine materials (hair, grass, wool) with some assistance from her mate. One works on the inside. The bird working on the outside of the nest also brings the construction materials. It is a hanging, gourd-shaped nest that is four to fifteen inches deep. Incubation of the three to six eggs is probably by the female alone and for about two weeks. Both adults feed the hatchlings insects such as crickets, cicadas, earwigs, and the pupae of moths and butterflies. The chicks leave the nest about two weeks after hatching.
The oldest known Bullock’s Oriole was a male, at least eight years and 11 months of age when recaptured during a Colorado banding operation in 2007. During migration, the Bullock’s Oriole can gather in small, loose flocks of both males and females. Fall migration begins as early as late July. Collective nouns for all species of orioles include pitch and split.
Although the Bullock’s Oriole is widespread and common, its population declined by 29 percent between 1966 and 2014. The global population is estimated at seven million, with 86 percent spending part of the year in the U.S., 96 percent in Mexico, and 3 percent breeding in Canada. For conservation purposes, the species rates a low concern. It can be impacted, however, by habitat loss and pesticide use.
You can listen to the Bullock’s Oriole song here: https://www.xeno-canto.org/342584. Both the male and the female sing. Observers have remarked that the male sings more sweetly but the female sings more prolifically.
— By Carol Riddell
Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.