Late Summer Orioles: Migration, Feeding, and Tips for Attracting Them in the Spring

Wednesday, August 11, 2021
How is it the second week of August already? Didn't nesting season just start a few weeks ago?! Summer is flying by, and as we come to the end of the season, many of our feeder favourites will be taking off as well. By the end of the month, most of our beloved orioles will have flown the coop, destined for warmer climates where they will spend the winter. But where do they go exactly? Read on to learn where orioles go when they leave us, how we can help them get there, and how to attract them in the spring. 

Baltimore Orioles feeding on mealworms from Spiral Treat Tray

Where do orioles go when they leave Ontario?
Baltimore Orioles spend the nesting season spread throughout eastern and central North America. In Canada, their breeding range extends from Nova Scotia west to a small area of British Columbia. Once breeding season wraps up, typically mid to late July, orioles begin preparing for migration southward. Orioles are long-distance migrants, flying all the way from Ontario to wintering grounds in Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and as far as the northern tip of South America. 

What should I be offering orioles this time of year?
Late summer oriole feeding looks a little different than what may have been on the menu during nesting season when their diet is a mostly insectivorous one. Migration takes a toll on the body, and in order to prepare for the journey after spending the summer raising babies, orioles need to consume a lot of proteins and sugars which are converted into energy. During both spring and fall migration periods, it is best to offer a variety of fruits, and various proteins in the form of suet products & mealworms. See blow for a full list of top foods to include on your oriole menu. 
        Foods to offer during migration:
  • BirdBerry Jelly: an all-natural blend of grapes and blackberries specially formulated to attract orioles, catbirds and other fruit-loving birds. Grocery store brand jellies made for human consumption are often high in added sugars, with other additives including but not limited to corn syrup, artificial colours, and artificial flavours, which can be harmful to birds. 
  • Orange halves: other citrus fruits may be accepted by some orioles, but oranges are the fan favourite. 
  • Dark-coloured fruits: blueberries, blackberries, grapes, black currants, etc.
  • Nectar: 1 part white table sugar, 4 parts boiled water (change often to avoid bacteria and mold growth)
  • SuperSuet, Bark Butter, Bark Butter Bits: suet may seem like a strange food for orioles, but they do take advantage of the quick protein-boost during migration seasons. SuperSuet is loaded with mealworms and is highly attractive to insect-eating species. 
  • Mealworms: live mealworms are highly attractive to orioles and other insectivorous bird species who may not visit traditional seed or suet feeders such as Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, and some warbler species. They can be offered in specialty feeders like the Spiral Treat Tray in the photo below, or in any shallow dish with smooth sides that the mealworms cannot easily crawl out of. Click here to learn more about feeding live mealworms to backyard birds. 

Baltimore Oriole; overwintered in Tiny Township in 2020/21
Photo by Marlene Trott

Summer Tanager; overwintered in Newmarket in 2020/21

How long should I leave my feeders up?
There is a myth that circulates each year around fall migration, and that is: leaving feeders up into September and beyond will cause birds to remain in their nesting grounds and miss their chance to migrate. This popular belief is 100% false. Offering foods into autumn will not cause birds to delay or miss migration, but the opposite is true. Each year there are many stragglers who for one reason or another (young, injured, etc) migrate later than usual, or take longer to do so. Sometimes this occurs when there are very little natural food sources available to them, leaving them to rely more heavily on bird feeders when they are in need of energy to continue on their paths. On rare occasions there may even be individuals who overwinter, two examples of this can be seen above with a Baltimore Oriole who remained in Tiny Township for the first part of the winter of 2020/21, and was lovingly watched over by Marlene Trott, and a rare Summer Tanager who overwintered in Newmarket and cared for by Cat Bezubiak. In most of these cases it is unknown why the bird could not or did not migrate, but having bird feeders stocked with healthy foods available to them, in addition to access to heated birdbaths for hydration, certainly impacts their survival for the better. So, to answer the question, leave your feeders up until you are sure there no orioles left passing through the area. If you have not seen an oriole in a week or two, chances are they have left for the year. Keeping your feeders on standby and a container of BirdBerry Jelly handy is always good practice - just in case!

I didn't have any orioles this year, what can I do to attract them to my yard next spring?
It can be so disappointing when a species you're trying to attract doesn't seem interested in your offerings. With orioles, the key is to get your feeders out early and offer seasonally savvy foods. Don't wait until you're seeing oriole sightings posted from all around your neighbourhood, get your feeders out and ready for when the birds first arrive. A good time to hang your feeders is mid-April, as most orioles start showing up early May, though there may be a couple early birds who get there before the rush. Foods that they will gravitate toward at this time are the same as what they are looking for during fall migration, sugars in the form of nectar and fruits, and protein in the form of suet and insects, and sometimes even seed (see full list above). In addition to offering foods at feeders, planting native fruit-bearing plants such as serviceberry, dogwood, and purple flowering raspberry help provide natural food sources for them throughout the summer months. Native plants grown without the use of pesticides or insecticides also support insect life which are orioles' primary source of nutrients and protein during the nesting season. 

Baltimore Oriole dad with fledglings

As always, we are so sad to see the orioles leave us and are already dreaming of their return in the spring. But with their departure, comes a whole list of birds ready to grace our feeders to brighten up the snowy season. Get ready, winter birding is coming!

Happy trails!
- Shayna