The Hooded Orioles are back. The medium-sized birds arrive from Mexico, settling in Los Altos for approximately five months of the year to breed and build nests in palm trees.
You can usually hear them before you see them. They make distinctive sounds – a fast chatter like a “chit” and a slow “weeet.”
The male – a bright-yellow on the verge of turning orange – has a saturated black patch covering the lower half of his face, neck and upper portion of breast; black wings with some white wing bars; and a strong, black, slightly curved bill. The female is a pale-yellow version without a black patch. While not as exciting as the male and somewhat timid, when this daintier version is around, the male is nearby.
If you live near palms, listen for the Hooded Orioles in late evening, when they seem to be most active. Consider setting out a feeder specifically for Orioles, placing the feeder as close to palms as possible but also near a tree where they can take cover. The Orioles move around the middle to upper branches, eventually making a beeline for the feeder. Within a few seconds, they return to the leafy tree and repeat the routine for much of the day.
I have used two types of feeders successfully. One holds the nectar in a large, clear bulb shape that twists into a base with ports and resting perches. But I prefer a flat, disc-shaped one, because it offers a less obstructed view of the Oriole. It is also easier to clean and fill and attracts hummingbirds. To make nectar, add 4 or 5 parts boiling water to 1 part sugar and stir to dissolve. To save time, add less water, dissolve sugar and then add ice. Once cooled, add to feeder and set out. Change the feeder every several days.
Despite one early aerial skirmish with a House Finch, the Orioles seem to get along well with other birds that frequent feeders, including House Finches, Goldfinches, Golden-Crowned Sparrows and an occasional Oak Titmouse or Chickadee. Even so, the Hooded Orioles are skittish birds, constantly looking around while at the feeder. If you see one up close, do not move. Remain still to watch them for as long as possible, which is usually only a few seconds.
If you want to take a photo, have your camera in zoom position with your finger on the button. It is possible to look at them for longer periods of time when they are several feet away.
Within a few months after the mature Orioles’ arrival, juvenile Hooded Orioles may appear.
The juvenile male looks a lot like the female – he is a lighter yellow than the adult male – and while he has the black neck patch, it is a less saturated color. It takes a little while for the juveniles to learn to act like mature Hooded Orioles, which can be amusing.
They are chattier than the adults and can be heard in groups. I have seen a juvenile visit a feeder and not yet know how to use it and have been surprised to see two juveniles frolicking in the birdbath. And they stick around longer than the adults – the last one departed last season in early September.
Have you seen or heard Hooded Orioles in your neighborhood? I would be interested to know.