Why is attracting orioles to your backyard so fun and exciting?
I think it’s a combination of a few things. First, regardless of the species (Baltimore, Orchard, Bullocks), orioles are absolutely gorgeous! I think their exotic orange plumage makes them look like they belong in a rain forest instead of the United States and Canada.
The other reason is that even though orioles are not rare, they are uncommon to see. I know many people who have NEVER observed an oriole. These shy birds tend to stay high up in the trees AWAY from people. I love being able to show someone orioles at my feeders for the first time and witness how they can’t believe these birds exist near us!
Today I provide 5 effective strategies you can use to attract orioles!
Assuming you live in the USA or southern Canada, then you can potentially watch orioles in your backyard during the summer months. It’s going to take a bit of effort on your part to initially attract these beautiful birds, but once they start coming, they can quickly become regular feeder visitors.
- RELATED: The 8 Orioles Found in the United States and Canada! (w/ Range Maps)
Strategy #1: Select Foods That Orioles ACTUALLY Eat!
To attract orioles, you can’t use standard bird seed mixes that include foods like sunflower, safflower, peanuts, and corn.
That’s because orioles have a different diet that DOES NOT include seeds. In the wild they prefer eating ripe fruits and insects, so we need to mimic what they naturally eat as best as possible.
In general, there are 4 foods used for attracting orioles:
You finally have a great way to get rid of old fruit in your house that you’re not going to eat!
That’s because orioles enjoy eating a wide variety of fruit, including oranges, grapes, bananas, berries, and cherries.
The fruit that I prefer using is an orange sliced in half. That’s because orioles love eating oranges! And as a bonus, orioles are naturally attracted to the color orange. I also like that oranges are generally inexpensive, don’t spoil quickly if appropriately stored, and can be used in a wide variety of bird feeders.
When it comes to feeding orioles jelly, it seems that grape works best.
Jelly that is made for humans is fine for feeding orioles. Just head to your local grocery store and buy an inexpensive brand.
My preference is buying jelly that comes in a squeeze bottle to avoid the mess of scooping it out with a spoon! And make sure you purchase jelly and not jam.
Similar to hummingbirds, orioles enjoy drinking sugar water for an instant energy burst!
You can purchase pre-made nectar, but it’s easy to make your own! Just mix 4 parts water with 1 part table sugar, and you’re done!
Unfortunately, you typically can’t use your hummingbird nectar feeders for orioles. That’s because their bills are too big to fit into the tiny ports that typical hummingbird feeders posses. But have no fear, Strategy #2 below details some nectar feeders that are designed specifically for orioles!
Since orioles also eat insects, they may come to your feeder if you offer mealworms.
Mealworms can be offered two ways: Dead or alive.
- Freeze-dried (dead): You can buy large bulk packs of mealworms that can be stored for long periods. Freeze-dried is not nearly as appealing to birds as living mealworms.
- Alive: You can purchase living mealworms either at a local pet store or online. Dealing with living mealworms is a lot more work than buying freeze-dried, but birds will go crazy over having a live treat!
In full disclosure, I have not had much luck attracting and feeding orioles with mealworms. I have had the most success with fruit, jelly, and nectar.
Strategy #2: Be Seasonally Savvy With The Foods You Offer.
It’s essential to understand the natural history of orioles. You want to make sure you are putting out the correct food at the right times of the year to have the best chance at attracting them.
Here is what I mean:
In case you didn’t know, orioles are not year-round visitors to most of the USA and Canada. Orioles typically spend their winters in Central America and migrate back north in late April or early May to breed and raise their young. Then in September, nature calls and they make the long migration back south.
For most of us, we have 4 months each year to attract orioles!
And to complicate things a bit more, an orioles diet changes from the time they arrive back from migration to the time they leave again at the end of summer.
But don’t worry, here is a simple guide of what and when you should be feeding orioles. Please know that the diet of your local birds may VARY GREATLY, depending on the exact species, weather, location, and food availability.
Spring and Late Summer/Early Fall:
Feed foods high in sugar, such as jelly, ripe fruits, and nectar. The sugar is converted into energy needed for migration. The fruits that seem to work best at oriole feeders are orange halves and grapes.
During the summer months, Most of an orioles diet consists of insects. The additional protein is needed while they are breeding and raising their young. Try offering dried mealworms in a tray or cup to keep orioles coming to your feeders all summer. Lastly, don’t stop feeding fruits, nectar, and jelly until the orioles stop eating these foods each day.
I have the most luck attracting orioles in Spring as they arrive from their migration.
Unfortunately, just as I am getting used to the daily show of orioles each Spring, it seems like their diet switches without warning, and they quit coming to the oranges and jelly they reliably ate just days before. At this time, it’s necessary to switch to mealworms to try and get the birds coming back all summer.
Strategy #3: Use Oriole Friendly Feeders.
So far we have discussed the right foods you need to use to attract orioles, and then the best times of year to offer these foods.
The next strategy for attracting orioles is selecting specialized bird feeders that can feed these birds their unique diet!
For example, here is a video of one of my favorite feeders for orioles:
I love that it can feed THREE different foods at one time! The feeder holds nectar in the bottom dish, which birds access by sticking their beak through the four feeding ports. On the top orange lid, there are four small cups where jelly can be placed. Lastly, the metal rod used for hanging the feeder can be used to skewer half oranges (not pictured in the above video).
For a complete list of different feeders that can be used to attract orioles, check out my below article! The post gives some great ideas for repurposing some of your current bird feeders for orioles, including using a nail and hammer!
Want a LIVE look at my oriole feeders?
Press PLAY below to see what’s happening at my bird feeding station.
Depending on the time of year, I may not be trying or able to attract orioles. Or you may be reading this at night, in which case you get to see the cameras impressive night vision, but probably no birds. 🙂
Strategy #4: Provide Water.
This strategy isn’t just for attracting orioles. Offering a water source can also be used for drawing lots of additional species to your backyard, including birds that generally don’t visit feeders, such as warblers, hawks, robins, etc.
The reason is simple. ALL birds and animals need to drink. If you provide a clean and consistent source of water, you may be surprised at what will show up.
To provide water in your backyard, you are going to need to purchase a bird bath (unless you are lucky enough to have a lake or river nearby!).
Don’t believe me that bird baths attract unique birds?
Check out this awesome video of a Red-shouldered Hawk drinking from my ground bird bath.
Bird baths come in all sorts of shapes, colors, styles, and price ranges. To learn more about what to look for in a birdbath, check out this article that I wrote: The Bird Bath Buying Guide: 8 Questions To Ask Yourself.
Strategy #5: Plant Native Trees That Appeal To Orioles!
Planting native trees and shrubs are the best way to attract orioles without having the constant maintenance that feeders require. Just think about it, once a tree is established, you don’t have to do anything except maybe water it every so often!
Trees and shrubs provide important places for orioles to nest, hide, eat, perch, and roost.
Here are a few of the best native plants you can use:
Tree species that orioles will use for NESTING: Oak, maple, sycamore, and elm trees.
- Along with being preferred nesting locations, these native trees provide large quantities of insects that orioles require while raising their nestlings. Unfortunately, orioles seem to prefer large, mature trees, so if you are just planting a small tree, you may have a long wait on your hands. 🙁
- On a side note, orioles build some of the most complicated nests of any species. The nests are woven from hundreds of strands of fibers and hang from the ends of tree branches. To encourage nesting in your yard, you can try providing 6-inch or shorter pieces of biodegradable string and yarn, which can be placed in a suet feeder.
Plants that provide fruit for FOOD and NUTRITION:
The list is long, but a few popular fruit trees and shrubs that orioles love are are mulberry, wild cherry, raspberry, blackberry, serviceberry, and dogwood berries.
Lastly, orioles are naturally attracted to the color orange. Try to landscape your yard with plants that have orange flowers. Last summer, I planted a Trumpet Vine in our backyard, which provides dozens of bright orange nectar-filled flowers that should help not only attract orioles, but it’s a favorite for hummingbirds (and Trumpet Vines grow EXTREMELY fast!).
- RELATED: 28 Common Flowers That Attract Hummingbirds (Native, Easy To Grow)
RELATED: The Audubon Native Plant Database: Search for oriole friendly plants in your hardiness zone.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. What are the most common species of orioles?
This question is hard to answer because it depends on where you live! Three common species of orioles are observed across the United States and southern Canada.
- Baltimore Oriole: The most common oriole in the eastern USA. Summer range is most of the USA and southern Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. They spend winters in Florida and Central America.
- Orchard Oriole: Summer range is the USA east of the Rocky Mountains. Spends its winters in Central America.
- Bullocks Oriole: The most common oriole in the western USA. Their summer range is west of the Rocky Mountains. Spends winters in Central America.
RELATED: The 8 Orioles Found in the United States and Canada! (w/ Range Maps)
2. How long will it take for orioles to start visiting my backyard?
Unfortunately, this question is impossible to answer.
To be honest, you may never see an oriole in your backyard, even though you diligently set out the correct foods every day, supply fresh water, and have large, beautiful trees that are perfect for housing oriole nests.
On the other hand, you may put an orange out at the beginning of May and have birds visiting within 24 hours.
If you are having issues attracting orioles, don’t give up too fast!
It’s not uncommon to try for a few seasons before the orioles find you and know they can count on your yard to provide delicious food all season long. My recommendation is to try at least 3 years before giving up.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion:
At this point, I hope you are feeling confident in your ability to attract orioles to your backyard!
We have gone over the following 5 simple strategies:
Feeding the types of foods that orioles eat at bird feeders.
Being seasonally savvy with your food selection.
Selecting appropriate oriole feeders.
Offering fresh and clean water.
Planting native trees and shrubs that appeal to orioles.
And please do not give up!
Tomorrow could be the day that a beautiful, orange oriole finally discovers your tasty jelly, nectar, fruit, and mealworms.