BIRD TALK: BULLOCK’S ORIOLE

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By Greg Dunne

March 16, 2013 (Lake Murray) -- Spring has sprung, warm weather is here and the wild Ramona Lilac is in bloom all over the hills in the East County. It is the time of year to keep a keen eye open for the Oriole. These birds winter in Mexico and then start to come north as the days get longer. In my experience, March and April have always been the best time to observe these beautiful, bright yellow-orange birds with sharp contrasting black on the back, throat and top of the head.

Large trees around lakes and rivers are the Oriole’s favorite places to hang out. I have had good luck in seeing them at all of our lakes in the East County. Keep your eyes open in large eucalyptus trees, one of their preferred nesting areas.

We have many species of Orioles in our county. The Hooded Oriole, Scott’s Oriole, and even Baltimore Orioles have been spotted in San Diego County. However, the Oriole I see most frequently is the Bullock’s Oriole shown here in the photo taken at Lake Murray.

The Bullock’s Oriole is a medium size songbird measuring 9 inches in length with a 12-inch wingspan. Like many others in the animal kingdom, the females are paler in beauty and color. Males are very bright orange to dark yellow, with black throat, cap, eye-line and back. Females have a dull yellow head, face, and neck with pale gray under-parts.

Both sexes of Bullock’s Orioles are active singers but, unusual in the bird world, they sing different songs. The song of the female is similar to that of the male, but ends differently and with harsher notes. The females sing regularly and may sing more before and during nest building.  This Oriole’s nest is neatly woven, hanging from tall trees at the edges of woodlands, along watercourses, and in urban parks near water.

The Oriole belongs to the family of birds called Icteridae. Very clever with a keen awareness of their surroundings has always been my observations of this family of birds. This group includes Blackbirds, Grackles, Meadowlarks, Bobolinks and the very rude “guest”, the Cowbird, is included in this family of birds. I categorize the Cowbird as a guest because it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds and its chicks are raised by the surrogate family.

However, the Bullock’s Oriole is one of the few birds that can recognize the intruder’s eggs and disposes of them.  Orioles puncture and eject Cowbirds' eggs, sometimes damaging their own eggs in the process. So a word to all Cowbirds; do not lay your eggs in the Bullock’s Oriole’s nest.