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Below are some oriole pictures which might help serve to
unravel them a bit..... or may just confuse you more.
I hope to fill it out with full coverage of the
local types, but now several photos scattered
about the website are joined, and I've added a number
of others I've been collecting as I study them here.
A large number were taken through old grayed double windows
and are grayish and slightly fuzzy, but serve to show the
points of plumage for illustrative purposes.
First we'll have some general oriole info, then among the
pix will be some more specific things like occurrence
locally and or field marks to look for.
Eventually I'll get a page up with just the pictures.
And a page with audio so you can hear songs and calls.
Orioles are in the family with blackbirds (Icteridae), so
are also related to grackles and meadowlarks. They are
sort of arboreal (tree dwelling) blackbirds. Males
especially are brightly colored. Around Utopia we have
6 species, 5 of which breed locally, so it is pretty much
One, Audubon's, is resident (present year-round) so the only
to be found in winter (scarce). It was unknown here 20
years ago, a new immigrant rapidly expanding its range northward.
The other 4 breeding species are migratory, only present a
few months to nest (when the insects are out) and wintering
mostly in Mexico, some to Central America. The summer
resident breeders are present here from mid-to-late March
(Scott's and Hooded) or late April (Orchard and Bullock's)
with departures ranging from August to early October for some.
Of breeding males, Scott's and Audubon's are black and yellow,
while Hooded and Bullock's (scarce breeder) are black and orange.
Orchard which is much smaller than others have males chestnut and
black, unique among N.A. birds, and pretty darn sharp lookin'.
The Bullock's is very common just off escarpment to our south.
Baltimore, a black and orange type similar to Bullock's does not
breed, it is a scarce but regular migrant in spring, more common
in fall, late August through Sept. for them. Will hit hummer
feeders in September if they can get into them, and well worth it.
I have had the rare lucky days when I saw all 6 species here.
Must be some of that Utopia stuff. Upon consideration,
how many places in the U.S. can one see 6 species of orioles
in a day? In a yard without starting the car?
But yet, if you go out hunting them away from feeders,
they can seem scarce.
The parasitic nesting cowbirds often choose orioles
as hosts when they can get away with it, and have hit
the smaller Orchard Oriole particularly hard. We
need more cowbird traps and shooters out there, not just
once a species is threatened. Managing is being pro-active.
Man made the cowbird over-abundant, do we take no responsibility?
Besides nectar they obtain from flowers (pollinators), orioles
are tremendous insect eaters (mostly in the way of caterpillars
and "worms" in your trees) so very beneficial to have
around. In addition to the fancy plumage males wear, they have
wonderful songs of whistled notes often with gurgles and bubbly
chatters, some of them are some of our most beautiful bird
voices. Both sexes of the yellow ones (Scott's and Audubon's)
sing, while Hooded and Orchard have great exhuberant flight song
displays you might see if you watch them long enough.
Males are easy to identify, females not too tough but they do
require careful observation of details. Bill size, shape,
and structure is especially usable, note if decurved or straight.
Hooded and Orchard always have a decurved upper mandible (of
which Hooded's bill is twice as big as Orchard).
Know the standard basic field guides can be a bit weak or worse
on immature plumages, those of the first year and change.
The males take over a year to acquire the adult colors.
Most guides show one bird for first springs, a male, but
males look one way in April, another in June, another in
August, during that first spring and summer as they turn
a year old, they often go through full body and wing molt.
We hope to show some of these changes with photos here.
And first spring and summer females don't look like adult
females either. What your book didn't tell you that?
In many the immature males look like females with black bibs.
They've black pear shaped bibs and lores (between eye and bill)
in spring, and slowly change over, or sometimes more quickly
at the end of, the first summer, to looking like a male plumage,
via molt. Change is the main theme, variation running second.
Amongst birds, they are very intelligent, and we
know far less about them than we think we do.
I've seen them do things the experts would not believe.
Here are some photos and discussion about them.
Audubon's Oriole - Icterus graduacauda
I'm still working on a caption for this one.
1) If you can ID, age, and sex this,
you don't need this web page ....
2) Don't tell me these rectrices aren't in your book!?!
Audubon's Oriole is the only year-round resident, yet
the new colonizer of the bunch. Getting easy to hear
from roads as becoming widespread, but still hard to see
away from feeders. Some pairs in spring 2011 at
Lost Maples, has been at Utopia Park rarely, just recently
at Utopia on the River, and is numerous in the mesquite
patches 4 miles south of Utopia along Hwy. 187. We had
10 at once daily in the yard one winter, while someone 5+ miles
away on N. Little Creek had 17 at the same time!
They are not mapped for the area in virtually any books yet/still.
Local ranchers and housewives knew they were here years
before birders did. They've been present in numbers and
probably resident locally along the southern edge of the Edwards
Plateau where the brush country penetrates via drainages,
since at least 2000, some certainly earlier.
Audubon's Oriole was formerly well-named, as
Black-headed Oriole. Note unmarked olive back
in all ages, can be yellow-green on adult males.
Audubon's Orioles in winter use peanut feeders,
peanut butter, sunflower seed and hummingbird feeders.
(no cut and paste - got four in a frame once)
Juvenile Audubon's Oriole, June 12, 06,
note graduated rectrices (tail feathers).
This was likely the first ever documented juvenile
(=breeding) on the Edwards Plateau (in hill country).
An immature Audubon's Oriole in December, so first winter.
The head is mostly half black, the front half, down onto
chest slightly with green rear-crown and nape until
or through the first spring. This one was the
first ever on the Uvalde CBC which I found at Ft. Inge.
A first-summer bird in August with some white-edged
new feathers (greater coverts, a tertial, some remiges)
coming in on otherwise old worn wing. Tail still
juv./immature original issue year-old type.
Some sheathed feathers on head as black fills in.
They can get testy with each other.
Vocalizations are varied as all orioles, with some
whistled notes commonly heard that are 3-5 separate, single
notes, loud and downslurred (not bubbly gurgling and slurred
together) sometimes like " fee, few, feeww, feww, feeww"
or yee, you, youuu, youuuuu, youuuu; somewhat mournful sounding.
They also give quiet contact notes of "few" notes.
They commonly give a rough blackbird-like "aarrng" that
can sound remarkably like the Yellow-breasted Chat "aarrnk".
That also can be repeated in series to sound chat or wren-like:
"aarng aarng aarng aarng" in a scolding manner.
I have some of their sounds on tape I can't even describe.
We do intend on getting some audio up in the future.
I have mostly finished edited .wav files done for 80 species,
but have a time or space problem - they're bigger files, but
working on it.
Scott's Oriole - Icterus parisorum
Adult Scott's Orioles return in last half of March, most
first-spring birds in April, and some stay as late
as early October. Here, 99.999% have a long straight
(rule straight) evenly tapered finely pointed bill. The
basic ID key for Scott's vs. Audubon's is black in the back,
all black in adult males, and present or visible in almost
all other sexes or ages as spots or streaks. Almost
all Scott's show some black or charcol in back. Their
songs are one of the great American bird voices.
Scott's Oriole, adult male, note black back.
Scott's Oriole, adult male
First year male and female Scott's Oriole have variable black
on face, throat, and breast, females methinks increasing with age.
First spring/summer birds are very variable (yearlings).
Males return looking similar to adult females, and over
the summer molt into looking more like males. Both sexes
in first spring and summer have wings that are worn brown with
wingbars NOT of equal width, unlike earlier plumages and most books.
I recorded a date of July 6 for a first summer male getting
its first adult type tail feather of yellow base with black tip,
about two-thirds the way grown in maybe at that date.
Scott's Oriole, first spring bird, presumed female just
getting some black on lower throat and breast. It was
all yellow when it returned in April. The reddish tones
on the breast is reflection from the hummingbird feeder.
same bird as above, May 23, 2011
A first spring-summer female, June 17.
Note black in back not readily apparent,
wingbars worn off, wings worn brown.
Note bill size, shape, and structure.
A June 19 first summer male.
First summers easily aged by worn off wingbars,
brown flight feathers (primaries esp.) on wing.
Note black in back not readily apparent.
This one July 1.
Note the brown wing with worn off bars seems typical
for most first spring-summer orioles here, see the
first spring/summer Hooded Orioles below.
Juvenile (HY - hatch year) Scott's Oriole, probably male.
The reddish tone on underparts is feeder reflection.
Juvenile Scott's Oriole, probably male.
And here's one for the plumage particulars people.
I would hate to find something like this where it was
a vagrant and have to write a feather by feather description
of it. The good news is you can't see this on a CBC.
Tertial 1 was black and white, tertial 2 was missing,
tert 3 was brown, oh man it's gonna be a long night ...
and the moral is carry a camera.
August 6 is the date, a first summer male showing great
contrast in the old worn dull brown year-old feathers in
wing, and some brand spankin' new first adult type black
feathers with crisp white edges, paint just dried.
One retained juvenile rectrix (tail feather), bunch of new
black adult types coming in. Ohhhh baby what a beauty.
Two ages of tertials, new secondaries, old primaries.
Bet you feather freaks are pretty excited over this one? :)
yeah me too....
Scott's Oriole is one of America's greatest songsters.
Many variations of a series of 3-6 whistled fluted notes
run together as to be slurred or bubbly. The birds on
east side of the valley do not sing like the ones on the west
side, or those at Lost Maples. Much individual variation.
Like most bird songs, species tonal quality and timbre is unique,
i.e., it's not what they say, it's how they say it.
Common calls are blackbird like, either an "ing" note
or also often a loud guttaral "chuck" is given.
That's enough of Scott's for now.
On to Orchard Oriole.....
Orchard Oriole - Icterus spurius
Orchard is much smaller than all the other orioles,
so you might not think it an oriole at first glance.
But structurally it is clearly a small compact oriole,
that goes 'chuck', or 'chuck-chuck' or 'mew', often. They
have a great flight song display if you get lucky.
They arrive in late April, and still nest in seemingly
OK numbers, but are decidedly less common than in say
the late 1980's. Flocks of 10-20 may be seen in
spring or fall migration, peak fall for them being August
to early September here.
Orchard Oriole, adult male, the first year males
are green above and yellower below like female,
but with black bibs and lores (as young male Hooded below),
but real green and yellow-green overall.
Orchard Oriole, adult male, note the very
short bill is slightly decurved. These are
Texas Orchard Oriole (Oberholser) with a shorter
exposed culmen than the nominate Eastern Orchard, and
always has a distinct downcurved kink or droop near tip.
On Orchard note little round ping-pong ball shaped head
and very narrow depth of bill, nowhere near as deep based
as other orioles. The depth of bill at distalmost
feathering at base is barely wider than eye, coupled with
short tail creating the oft-cited "warbler-ish"look.
Females and immatures look closest to juvenile Hooded
with olive above and yellower green below, but are much
smaller, and especially of bill and tail, than Hooded.
A worn adult female methinks, August 12.
Note short tail seems shorter than wing.
I'm not sure of this one.... it was August 9,
so it must be a 60-70 day old immature male as it
seems a little black around the bill. Orchard
returns in late April, the earliest young out in
early June usually.
Orchard Oriole, probably an adult female, immatures look similar.
Note many immature and female Orchard Oriole I have seen here
have dusky lores, that is, slight darkness between eye and bill.
The female or immature Hooded Orioles I see here do not usually
show this. Sometimes on young males it may start to show,
barely, but not distinctly as often seen on Orchard here.
Elsewhere other types of Hooded or Orchard may be different,
but it might be a mark to watch for.
The Orchard Orioles I recorded singing here only finished
songs with the downslurred wheer note typical of Eastern
nominate birds 20% of songs, while 20% ended in scratchy
notes as Howell says they do in Mexico, while 60% ended in
piping whistled notes, apparently the Texas Orchard ending.
Calls are a "chuck" often doubled, and a mew note
reminiscent of grosbeak or tanager flight calls.
Finally, let me (probably not be the first to) say
I think the choice of specific epitaph was spurius. :)
Hooded Oriole - Icterus cucullatus
I must say the Hooded Oriole here is a beast
compared to the southern California ones I grew up
with. It really seems a different animal to me.
The bill approaches a thrasher bill at times, a sense
one would never get from a Nelson's Hooded out west.
Male's bill is often noticeably larger than females.
Hooded Oriole, adult male. These Uvalde Co. breeders are per
Oberholser (The Bird Life of Texas) the nominate cucullatus
Hooded Oriole. There are three subspecies of Hooded Oriole
in Texas. From Laredo south in deep south Texas are Sennett's
which are redder of head than these. From Big Bend west are the
southwestern Nelson's Hooded Oriole which are more yellow and
to my eye slighter of build in both body and bill. In between
are these 'Mexican' Hooded Oriole, cucullatus which are much darker
orange in tone than Nelson's, but not as red-tinted as Sennett's to the south.
Hooded Oriole, adult male
Always note decurved bill in Hooded Oriole.
My those are thick sturdy legs.
Hooded Oriole, adult male
Hooded Oriole, female, worn off wingbars
indicate a first-summer roughly a year-old.
Many females in first spring/summer wear to having almost
no wingbars, brown wings, and the central underparts (belly)
wear pale much like Bullock's females.
Hooded Oriole, female, worn off wingbars
indicate a first-summer roughly a year-old.
Hooded Oriole, juveniles
These are just out of the nest with bills
not yet fully grown.
Another juvenile showing wingbars.
Olive above, yellower below with wingbars is a
standard theme among non-adult male orioles.
Hooded Oriole, juvenile male probably 3-5 months old (Sept.)
starting to get black bib, which will extend to
include lores by time it returns at nearly a year old.
Our imm. male Hooded comes in two color types or phases,
orangish below (and grayer above) as above bird
with male-like colors, and they may also be olive
above and yellow below, like a female, but both
will have the telltale black bib and lores their
first spring and summer (throat in first fall - at
least for the male-like orange birds). Both types
occur together here.
Note field guides usually only show one type and
don't mention the other, as can be seen perusing
the various guides over the years, in case you were
wondering why you were confused. :)
Here's a recap of what you learned for bibbed imm. males:
Starting with Petersen, his Eastern guide shows a basic
green above yellow below bird (female type). Then
interestingly in the Mexican Petersen, he splits from his
green-yellow Eastern version, with an orange below bird
for an imm. male. I'll dig up some western Petersen
and update with what they show, I think green-yellow type.
Then the Golden Guide in the revised edition has an orange
below bird (male type). I thought the original was
a female type green-yellow bird. Nat. Geo. Soc. (1st ed.)
looks like they couldn't decide what they looked like
and split the difference. The NGS 3rd edition shows
a female type green above yellow below bird, the kind we
were supposed to confuse with Orchard Oriole.
Note Nat.Geo. first-years may seem cartoonish if you know
the birds well. Note the strange similarity between
juvenile/immature/female wings and first year male wings,
quite unlike those shown here on this page. Seems a bib
colored on other ages and sexes was called a first-spring?
No one did a better job of mis-leading me, or mis-construing
the birds, than Nat. Geo., again. Nat. Geo's first spring
orioles are unicorns, there is no such animal. Figments
of someone's imagination.
More recently then Kaufman and Sibley show orange below birds
with no mention of female types. The old Pough Audubon
guide only describes it as "like female with bib" so green-yellow.
Howell and Webb's Mexico field guide shows a green above
yellow below type for Nelson's (far western subsps.) and an
orange below type for the Yucatan Peninsula variety.
So one was left wondering if they changed from green and
yellow female plumage to orangeish male-like plumage as they
matured, or what because no one discusses two types of imm. males.
Perhaps some (unmated males?) change substantially over the
summer here, but it is not common or all of them. Perhaps
after breeding and departing this can happen on the winter grounds
in Mexcio? I've seen nice green and yellow birds with bibs
stay that way all summer into September.
What I hadn't seen before was mention that while in some cases
there may be subspecies reasons, also a) they can be color
phases within the same population, and b) both color versions
may occur together side by side such as here in Utopia.
Through the first summer the green and yellow usually one stays
that way as does the orangish one. Particularly if mated,
no molt takes place. The orange below types can turn
(wear) to a more brownish tone over gray-olive on upperparts
in first spring. The yellow below ones stay more green above.
At the end of summer some (mostly unmated ones) molt into their
first adult male type plumage. Some in September may still
be green/yellow with bibs, and unmolted still.
Here's a first spring male about a year old with black lores.
It showed up in April like this, messy bib, and is mated.
Usually the bib is neater and shaped more like adult male's.
Another first summer (SY) Hooded Oriole, with neater bib
and more green above and yellower below like female.
Reddish is feeder reflection.
You might find the bibbed plumages in books called anything
like first-spring or first-summer, but also called immature male
or sub-adult male commonly, acceptable and correct. Might
also be called SY - for second year, by banders, and another
terminology scheme calls them first-alternate. So just
to prove there is still room for more confusion, in simple
layfolk terms, they're yearlings or tweenagers. :)
Another picture for the plumage particulars people,
here's a first summer male on August 6 with new adult
type feathers coming in (black greater coverts and rex)
and quite obvious against the old dull worn feathers of
the first year on wing, and yellow ones in tail.
Now they make a lovely pair, don't they? :)
This is a mated pair of first-years also on August 6
as above bird, and note they have barely begun molting,
as they are still feeding young. So know timing of
molt can be governed in part by biology, like whether
or not the first-year bird is mated, most females are,
many males are not. The unmated male in the pic above them
looks much more robust, in much better condition, well into
body molt with the rump becoming fairly orange now (since
you can't see it I' mention it) probably having a good
time, whilst the mated male appears bedraggled and haggard
by any standard, as though he's been rode hard and put up wet.
If all of a sudden there are no more birdnews page updates,
it is probably because my wife found this page. :)
August 20, some first-summers molt late in first summer
into their first adult plumage, and it gets pretty ratty.
Baltimore and Bullock's Oriole - Icterus galbula and I. bullockii
Adult male September 12 has acquired 'winter' plumage
with broad buffy edges to black back feathers.
These wear off over winter to give us the black back
in spring, but meanwhile making them standout less.
Crown and nape have olive tips dulling them up too.
All new wing feathers with big bright crisp white edges.
Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles are superficially similar,
Bullocks has an orange face with a black throat, eyeline and
crown, and a big white upper-wing patch. Bullock's can be a
scarce nester in big old mesquites here, especially where there
are hackberries too, and are very common along roads just off the
escarpment to our south, I see a number as roadkill each year.
Bullock's Oriole male
Sorry about this fuzzy Bullock's picture,
but you get the idea.... it has a black crown.
Bullock's is the western version and Baltimore the
eastern version of two sister species, that were for
a while ridiculously lumped (AOU) as Northern Oriole.
Baltimore Oriole, male about to sample
one of our fine Texas Persimmons.
Female Bullock's or Baltimore Oriole (both similar)
Baltimore is a scarce but regular migrant in spring,
and sometimes in fall (Aug.-Sep.) one can encounter flocks
10-20 birds, often with other types of orioles mixed in,
and which can move fairly quickly across the landscape.
The flocks love to follow the line of the fading sun
across the terrain as it sets, getting those last bugs.
So there is a 101 primer on the orioles of Utopia.
The plumages aren't too hard to learn once you study
a little. :) It can get pretty exciting in
late August or early September when I've had flocks of
20, 30, 40 or more orioles of 4-5 or more species moving
through, seemingly coinciding with the ripening of the
Texas Persimmon perfectly.
Ya want orioles? OK, as long as you don't take
mine...... there is a hummingbird feeder they sell at
supermegamart that has elliptical openings instead
of small round holes (as you can see in one of the pictures).
The orioles will learn to use these, though I wonder if
Orchard's tongue is too short to reach the fluid, or
are they too impatient to figure it out?
The best thing to feed is just like for hummingbirds,
sugar water at 1 part (cup) sugar to 4 parts (cups) water.
This most closely matches real actual nectar in flowers.
It may take you a while to catch them, but once you do
you can't get rid of 'em. Waking up to Scott's
Oriole singing every morning 6 months of the year is
pretty hard to beat.
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