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This is a clip about the Boston Oriole from The Handbook of Nature Study.


Teacher’s Story

“I know his name, I know his note,
That so with rapture takes my soul;
Like flame the gold beneath his throat,
His glossy cope is black as coal.
O Oriole, it is the song
You sang me from the cottonwood,
Too young to feel that I was young.
Too glad to guess if life were good.”


Dangling from the slender, drooping branches of the elm in winter, these pocket nests look like some strange persistent fruit; and, indeed, they are the fruit of much labor on the part of the oriole weavers, those skilled artisans of the bird world. Sometimes the oriole “For the summer voyage his hammock swings” in a sapling, placing it near the main stem and near the top, otherwise it is almost invariably hung at the end of branches and is rarely less than twenty feet from the ground. The nest is pocket-shaped, and usually about seven inches long, and four and a half inches wide at the largest part, which is the bottom. The top is attached to forked twigs at the Y so that the mouth or door will be kept open to allow the bird to pass in and out; when within, the weight of the bird causes the opening to contract somewhat and protects the inmate from prying eyes. Often the pocket hangs free so that the breezes may rock it, but in one case we found a nest with the bottom stayed to a twig by guy lines. The bottom is much more closely woven than the upper part for a very good reason, since the open meshes admit air to the sitting bird. The nest is lined with hair “or other soft material, and although this is added last, the inside of the nest is woven first. The orioles like to build the framework of twine, and it is marvelous how they will loop this around a twig almost as evenly knotted as if crocheted; in and out of this net the mother bird with her long, sharp beak weaves bits of wood fibre, strong, fine grass and scraps of weeds. The favorite lining is horse hair, which simply cushions the bottom of the pocket. Dr. Detwiler had a pet oriole which built her nest of his hair which she pulled from his head; is it possible that orioles get their supply of horse hair in a similar way? If we put in convenient places, bright colored twine or narrow ribbons the orioles will weave them into the nest, but the strings should not be long, lest the birds become entangled. If the nest is strong the birds will use it a second year.

Baltimore OrioleThat Lord Baltimore found in new America a bird wearing his colors, must have cheered him greatly; and it is well for us that this brilliant bird brings to our minds kindly thoughts of that tolerant, high-minded English nobleman. The oriole’s head, neck, throat and part of the back are black; the wings are black but the feathers are margined with white; the tail is black except that the ends of the outer feathers are yellow; all the rest of the bird is golden orange, a luminous color which makes him seem a splash of brilliant sunshine. The female, although marked much the same, has the back so dull and mottled that it looks olive-brown; the rump, breast, and under parts are yellow but by no means showy. The advantage of these quiet colors to the mother bird is obvious since it is she that makes the nest and sits in it without attracting attention to its location. In fact, when she is sitting, her brilliant mate places himself far enough away to distract the attention of meddlers, yet near enough for her to see the flash of his breast in the sunshine and to hear his rich and cheering song. He is a good spouse and brings her the materials for the nest which she weaves in, hanging head downward from a twig and using her long sharp beak for a shuttle. And his glorious song is for her alone; some hold that no two orioles have the same song; I know of two individuals at least whose songs were sung by no other birds; one gave a phrase from the Waldvogel’s song in Sigfried; the other whistled over and over, “Sweet birdie, hello, hello.” The orioles can chatter and scold as well as sing.

The oriole is a brave defender of his nest and a most devoted father, working hard to feed his ever hungry nestlings; we can hear these hollow mites peeping for more food, “Tee dee dee, Tee dee dee”, shrill and constant, if we stop for a moment under the nest in June. The young birds dress in the safe colors of the mother, the males not donning their bright plumage until the second year. A brilliant colored fledgling would not live long in a world where sharp eyes are in constant quest for little birds to fill empty stomachs.

The food of the oriole places it among our most beneficial birds, since it is always ready to cope with the hairy caterpillars avoided by most birds; it has learned to abstract the caterpillar from his spines and is thus able to swallow him minus his “whiskers.” The orioles are waging a great war against the terrible brown-tail and gipsy moths in New England; they also eat click beetles and many other noxious insects. Once when we were breeding big caterpillars in the Cornell insectary, an oriole came in through the open windows of the greenhouse, and thinking he had found a bonanza proceeded to work it, carrying off our precious crawlers before we discovered what he was at.

The orioles winter in Central America and give us scarcely four months of their company. They do not usually appear before May and leave in early September.


Filed under: Part 3 - Composition

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