13 Expert Tips to Attract Baltimore Orioles to Your Yard

Attracting the season’s first Baltimore oriole to your yard is a true thrill! Imagine seeing this unmistakable orange beauty show up as if to say “spring is here”! You don’t have to imagine it, you can experience it for yourself because it’s relatively easy to lure them in.

I consulted with my backyard birding friends, combined them with my 20+ years of expertise, and created a list of 13 tips to attract Baltimore orioles to your yard that I’d like to share with you. Here they are:

13 expert tips for attracting Baltimore Orioles to your yard:

  1. Time it right
  2. Offer sweet food
  3. Be vigilant with nectar safety
  4. Be cautious about grape jelly
  5. Be particular about choosing a bird feeder
  6. Make it wiggly with mealworms
  7. Have water available
  8. Plant native
  9. Beware of toxic trees & shrubs
  10. Let the branches grow
  11. Go organic
  12. Keep kitty inside
  13. Provide nesting materials

I’ll go into more detail about how to attract them but first I’d like to share where they live, what they look like, their habitat, sounds, diet, mating, and nesting habits.

If you’re in a hurry, feel free to skip ahead to the details around the 13 expert tips for attracting Baltimore orioles to your yard.

Where Baltimore Orioles Live

map of Baltimore oriole migrating, breeding, and winter range
Baltimore oriole migration, breeding, wintering map.

Baltimore orioles are migratory birds which means they travel depending on their goal – to breed, to migrate to breed, to spend winter, and wait for spring.

  • Breeding: Breeding takes place between May and mid-August. The breeding range is as far south as northern Louisiana and as far north as central Canada.
  • Fall Migration: Around late August through early October, the oriole begins its migration south for the winter.
  • Winter: Baltimore orioles winter in central and South America between late October and early April.
  • Spring Migration: From April to May they make the trip north to breed for the summer months of June – late August.

Appearance

Baltimore oriole sitting on a branch
Male Baltimore oriole. Photo by Lonnie Gilstrap.

Baltimore orioles are probably the most recognized bird in the country after the cardinal.

They’re a medium sized bird about 8.25″ long – close in size to the cardinal but just 5″ shorter.

Male Baltimore orioles have a flaming orange body and a black head with black and white wing bars. The tail is orange with black and white streaks.

Female Baltimore Oriole
Female Baltimore oriole. Photo by Donna Cooper.

The female and juvenile birds have pale yellow heads and bodies with grayish-brown wings and white wing bars.

Both genders have a gray bill and dark eyes.

The Baltimore oriole is one of eight different oriole species. The other seven include the Orchard oriole, Bullock oriole, Hooded oriole, Scott’s oriole, Altamira oriole, Audubon’s oriole, and Spot-Breasted oriole.

Hooded Oriole
Male Hooded Oriole.
Photo by Laurie Hillyer.
Orchard oriole
Male Orchard Oriole.
Photo by AJ Small.
Bullock oriole
Male Bullock Oriole.
Photo by Nicole Wilde.
Juvenile male Bullock's oriole
Juvenile male Bullock’s oriole. Photo by Joy Adams Photography. Check her out on Instagram.

There are hints of resemblance across the different oriole species but still easy to distinguish them apart.

Also, since the bullock and hooded orioles live on the west side of the imaginary line we drew earlier, you’ll never see them with a Baltimore oriole.

Conversely, the hooded and Baltimore orioles live in nearly the same range (the orchard does not go as far north as Canada but does go further west into Texas) so you have a good chance of seeing both.

Habitat

Like most wildlife, Baltimore orioles gravitate to areas that offer their preferred foods in abundance including insects, fruit, and nectar.

They breed in woodlands rich with high, deciduous shade trees – ideal for their unique nesting method as you’ll soon learn. Their preference is the outskirts of the woods rather than deep inside.

They often nest near natural water sources such as ponds and rivers.

Their natural habitat includes residential areas as well.

Diet & Feeding Behavior

In the wild, Baltimore orioles primarily eat insects, berries, and nectar from flowers.

Insects are primarily consumed during the breeding season (June through late August) when protein is needed for growing babies. According to All About Birds, insects they’ve been known to eat include beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, moths, flies, and spiders.

We can all thank them for chowing down on these pesky bugs as well: tent caterpillars, gypsy moth caterpillars, fall webworms, and spiny elm caterpillars.

In preparation for migration the primary food source Baltimore orioles will ingest high carb food such as nectar and fruit. These sugary foods convert to fat quickcly providing much needed energy for the trip.

Same as hummingbirds, orioles will drink nectar sugar water offered in backyard feeders. Having somewhat of a “sweet beak”, orioles are also easily lured by the sight smells of fruit (like oranges) and grape jelly.

Sounds

Baltimore Oriole Song

Baltimore Oriole Song.
Audio compliments of Macaulay Library

Baltimore Oriole Call

Baltimore Oriole Call.
Audio compliments of Macaulay Library

Mating, Nesting, Eggs & Fledglings

Mating begins with the male Baltimore oriole calling to defend its nesting territory. Check out this video showing their call and “showy” dance routine.

The female chooses a nesting site within the territory of her mate and when they’re expecting, she constructs a 4-6″ hanging long purse-style nest suspended on the end of a forked branch.

Baltimore oriole nest
Baltimore Oriole nest. Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

The nest is an elaborate piece of art woven with long plant fibers, animal fur, grasses, and other plant materials. The branch is thin enough to hold the nest but not strong enough to support a squirrel, crow, or other dastardly predators out to harm the nest.

Baltimore oriole couples have just one brood per year each consisting of 4-5 bluish eggs with brown markings.

The female incubates the eggs for about 12-14 days. Both male and female Baltimore oriole feed the young until they are ready to leave the nest about 12-14 days after hatching.

Predators

Baltimore orioles can fall prey to other birds including crows, owls, blue jays, and magpies as well as small mammals including squirrels, foxes, and of course, cats. 

13 Expert Tips to Attract Baltimore Orioles to Your Yard Safely

1. Time it right

The first key tip for attracting Baltimore orioles is to know when the bird will be in your area so you know when to be ready for them. Because they’re migratory birds they don’t stay in one place for long. Depending on the time of the year they could be anywhere between South America and Canada.

  • Winter: Baltimore orioles winter in central and South America.
  • Spring Migration: From April to May they make the trip north to breed for the summer months of June – late August.
  • Breeding: The breeding range is as far south as northern Louisiana and as far north as central Canada.
  • Fall Migration: Around late August through early October, the oriole begins its migration south for the winter and starts the cycle all over again in April.

2. Offer sweet Food

Baltimore orioles love sweeter fare. You can easily attract them with oranges, nectar, and standard grocery store grape jelly.

Female Baltimore oriole on a deck rail approaching food
Female Baltimore oriole. Photo by Donna Cooper.

Oranges

Oranges are a favorite of Baltimore orioles and many other fruit-loving birds. It doesn’t take anything special to lure them in. Simply cut an orange in half or sections and set out on a ledge.

Of course, you can also opt for a feeder specific for oranges. Many even place them in suet cages which work just fine. Just remember to keep the fruit fresh. After a couple of days or if no fruit remains, toss it.

According to Cornell University, unlike robins and other fruit-loving birds, orioles prefer bright, dark-colored ripe fruit such as oranges – don’t bother with paler fruits like green grapes and yellow cherries.

Shockingly, they are also attracted to the color orange. Imagine that!

Nectar

Sugar water nectar is best offered in a feeder specifically designed for it such as the photo below (minus red dye in the nectar). Hummingbirds are happy to share this bounty with orioles.

Baltimore oriole doing the splits between perch and feeder
I couldn’t resist sharing this clever shot of a Baltimore oriole. This photo was taken before claims of red dye dangers surfaced. Please skip adding red dye to bird nectar. It’s just not necessary. Photo by AJ Small.

Grape Jelly

A tablespoon of grape jelly is plenty to lure these orange beauties in. Many nectar feeders come with a small dish specifically designed for the jelly. Any dish will do just fine just make sure it’s fastened down otherwise they may knock it over.

Be sure to follow safety guidelines when offering fruit, nectar and jelly. (Hint: Keep reading).

3. Be vigilant with nectar safety

Feeder nectar is essentially sugar water. When making your own nectar the following guidelines are imperative to safely feeding Baltimore orioles as well as other nectar loving birds:

Only Use Plain White Pure Cane Granulated Sugar

Only use plain white pure cane granulated sugar – never use other sweeteners such as honey, syrup, powdered sugar, artificial sweeteners, or other types of sweeteners. The photo below sadly illustrates the results of using an alternative sweetener – honey.

Hummingbird with tongue unable to retract
This hummingbird drank nectar likely made with honey causing her tongue not to be able to retract. Sadly, this bird will not survive as a result.

Mix 1:4 Ratio Sugar-Water

Most experts agree a 1:4 ratio of sugar to water makes the best and safest concoction of sugar water nectar. Here’s a simple recipe:

Simple Sugar-Water Nectar Recipe

  • 1/4 cup plain white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup hot water

Mix together until sugar is dissolved. After room temperature is reached add to the feeder.

Skip the Red Dye

Adding red dye to bird nectar is a hot topic. Many people claim adding red dye to the nectar causes cancer, adversely impacts hummingbird eggs, and/or causes other harmful effects.

I haven’t been able to find any legitimate studies proving these claims. However, better safe than sorry. Just skip the red dye.

It’s just not necessary. Yes, many birds are attracted to the color red but that can be achieved by using a red feeder.

Change Nectar Frequently

To avoid causing your backyard bird friends to become sick, provide fresh nectar every few days and definitely once it becomes cloudy. Also:

  • In hot weather, it may be necessary to change the nectar daily.
  • Thoroughly wash and rinse the nectar feeder after each nectar change.

4. Be cautious about grape jelly

Baltimore orioles and other sweet-loving birds are easily lured in with grape jelly. In this day and age of low carb, Keto, and other carbohydrate-related diets have caused our grocery store shelves to be stocked with an array of low-sugar, sugar-free, and jelly with alternative sweeteners.

Only offer regular grape jelly and avoid low sugar, sugar-free, or alternatively sweetened jelly as they do not provide the carbohydrates birds need for energy.

I’ve not found any proof that these alternative grape jellies are inherently bad for wildlife but why mess with a good thing? People have been feeding grape jelly to Baltimore orioles for decades without any known issues.

5. Be particular about choosing a bird feeder

Manufacturers sure do a great job these days of designing artfully crafted and downright cool-looking bird feeders but beware because not all styles are safe for Baltimore orioles, or any bird for that matter.

In particular, deep and long feeders that hold grape jelly have been known to injure or kill jelly-loving birds such as orioles. The bird tries to get access to the jelly, which requires them to almost climb into the jar and ultimately get stuck. I won’t go into the gory details but I think you get the picture. This style feeder is dangerous.

baltimore oriole standing on grape jelly feeder that is deep and narrow
Avoid this style of bird feeder. Baltimore orioles and other jelly-loving birds can get stuck and die.

Shallow is your best bet when offering this treat. In fact, you only need to offer 1 tablespoon of jelly at a time.

6. Make it wiggly with Mealworms

Mealworms are actually the larvae of the mealworm beetle and since one of the Baltimore oriole’s favorite food is insects – this food is ideal and easy to offer.

Live mealworms are commonly available at your local nature store and dehydrated varieties are available online as well as at the local nature store.

Dehydrated mealworms last longer, require no maintenance, and are cheaper but sometimes take orioles longer to realize they are actually food, delaying their visit to your yard.

Mealworms can be placed in a dish – just make sure the dish has sides when offering live ones otherwise they’ll climb out and escape!

7. Have water available

Bullock oriole
Bullock oriole enjoys a water source. Photo by Nicole Wilde.

All birds need water to drink and bathe in. Baltimore orioles are no different. If a natural source of water is not available nearby consider installing a pond – even a small patio pond will attract wild birds. 

A birdbath is another viable option.  Birds are drawn to moving water so adding a fountain to the birdbath could increase your chances of attracting one.

8. Plant native

Native plants are particularly ideal because they don’t require special treatment to thrive and produce fruit and nectar. Non-native plants often require toxic fertilizers and pesticides which can kill birds.

During the fall and early spring when insects are scarce, many birds, including Baltimore orioles, rely on the fruit from trees, shrubs, and vines for substance.

Planting native fruit trees that produce bright and deep colored fruits (such as mulberries, cherries, and purple grapes) and nectar-producing flowers (such as raspberries, crab apples, and trumpet vines) are tasty treats that will lure orioles year after year.

Here are some ideas for native plants the oriole will love:

Trees

  • American Holly
  • Black Cherry
  • Cascara Buckthorn
  • Mountain Ash
  • Dogwood – Silky, Flowering, Gray, Red Osier, Alt. Leaf
  • Pin Cherry
  • Red Mulberry
  • Serviceberry
  • Flowering Dogwood

Shrubs

  • Blackberry
  • Raspberry
  • Chokeberry
  • Chokecherry
  • Dogwood shrubs
  • Elderberry
  • Shadbush
  • Snowberry
  • Viburnums
  • Bayberry
  • Blackhaw
  • Cotoneaster
  • Highbush Cranberry
  • Holly
  • Mistletoe
  • Sumac
  • Highbush blueberry
  • Nannyberry
  • Winterberry

9. Beware of toxic trees & shrubs

Not all of mother nature is kind to wild birds. According to the Northwest Bird Rescue, the plants listed below are toxic to wild birds. Keep your feathered friends safe by keeping your yard clear of them.

Toxic PlantToxic part(s)
Avocado (Persea americana)Pit, leaves, unripe fruit, stems
Black locust (Robina pseudoacacia)Bark, leaves, seeds
Blue-green algae (Microcystis aeruginosa)All parts
Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopiea)All parts
Castor bean (Ricinus communis)All parts
Christmas cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)All parts including tubers and unripened fruit
Coffee beans, (Sesbania drumundii), Tea, Chocolate Beans (coffee)Leaves (tea), all chocolates especially dark
Diffenbachia (Diffenbachia spp.)All parts
Eggplant (Solanum melongena)Stem, leaves, sprouts (ripe fruits are OK)
Elephant’s ear (Colocasia or Alocasia spp.)All parts
Ergot (Claviceps purpurea)All parts
Foxglove (Digitalis pupurea)Entire plant, including water from pot or vase
Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)All parts, including tubers, sprouts, and unripe berries
Jimsonweed (Datura spp.)All parts, especially seeds and leaves
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)All parts
Locoweed (Astragalus emoryanus)Leaves
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)All parts and latex (milky juice)
Mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum)All parts, especially holly berries
Nightshade (Solanum spp.)All parts
Oak (Quercus spp.)All parts
Oleander (Nerium oleander)All parts
Philodendron (Philodendron scandens)All parts, including roots
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)Roots, leaves, berries
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)Stem, leaves, sprouts, green skins
Rhododendron (Rhodedendron simsii), Rhododendron species (Azalea)All parts
Tobacco (Nicotiana spp.)All parts
Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)Stem, leaves, sprouts (ripe fruits are OK)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolio)Berries, leaves
Yew (Taxus media)Wood, bark, seeds, leaves

10. Let the Branches grow

To attract the Baltimore, oriole try to resist the urge to trim the branches on your deciduous trees. Instead, allow them to grow long because this bird builds a long fibrous purse-like nest at the ends of long branches.

This is a clever approach to avert predators that are too heavy to reach the slender end of the branch where the nest hangs.

11. Go organic

Avoid using chemicals in and around your yards such as grass fertilizer and pesticides. Orioles, and other wild birds, consume insects as their primary source of food and if you kill them off, there won’t be any to eat.

Equally horrible would be death by poisoning in the case of a wild bird eating a toxic insect!

12. Keep kitty inside

sweet looking cat
Sure, kitty looks sweet until you let him outside and his animal instincts kick in! Photo by Amber Kipp

A primary predator to birds everywhere are cats – house cats. This includes feral cats that can roam a neighborhood.

According to a study published in Nature Communications, each year almost 4 billion wild birds lose their lives to outdoor cats. Not only does this rock the ecology it makes your yard unappealing and dangerous for many forms of wildlife.

If it’s your cat, keep it inside. Don’t be fooled. Even the nicest and sweetest of kitties have the natural instinct to hunt birds. It’s not their fault.

If it’s a feral cat implement a non-toxic deterrent method such as scattered fresh orange or lemon peels in the area.

If you’re really gung ho, consider trapping the feral feline and taking it to a human society that offers free neutering/spaying. This may prevent the next person from having to deal with a feral cat at their feeder.

13. Provide Nesting Materials

While Baltimore orioles rely heavily on natural plant materials to build their funky hanging nest you can make it easier for them by providing more options.

Pet fur is ideal as well as short pieces of string remnants. Trying putting them in an empty suet cage and hanging near deciduous trees where they’ll build their nest.

Caution: Never provide human hair as birds can get tangled in it.

Next Steps

I think you’ll agree what a thrill it would be to see an oriole in your yard! Take and apply some of the tips I provided or if you’re really serious about attracting them to your yard – apply all of them! Good luck and happy birding!


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a Bullock oriole and a Baltimore oriole?

The Bullock oriole range is in the western part of the country while the Baltimore oriole is in the eastern part. Also, male Bullock orioles have an orange face while the Baltimore oriole’s face is black. Other than that, the coloring is similar.

how to tell a female Baltimore oriole from a first-year male

The female Baltimore oriole and first-year male Baltimore oriole look similar – both have faded yellow bodies. The difference is the female’s head is also faded yellow while the juvenile’s head is black.

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Tammy Poppie

More than 20 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her back yard (and repel others). In her free time, she can be found in nature kayaking, hiking, and biking always hoping to see a bird in the wild.