Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Expect Baltimore orioles to appear around May 1

Q: I live just north of Brattleboro, Vt. I read and enjoy your column in The Brattleboro Reformer. I enjoy watching the birds that come to my feeders and can identify many of them from what my grandmother taught me many years ago. My question is, when can I expect Baltimore orioles to appear?

— Ruth, Dummerston, Vt.

A: For the most part, this conspicuous species is a valley bird that can be expected about May Day or a few days later. I would suggest that if you are attempting to attract them by feeding, have the food available in the open by the end of April. I have only attempted to feed them oranges cut in half in the past, but in recent years have heard of success attracting them to sugar water feeders specially designed for them.

To mix sugar water for the oriole, boil water, remove from heat and mix in ordinary white granulated sugar. Allow mixture to cool before adding to a clean oriole feeder. Mix 6 parts water to 1 part sugar. Never use food coloring, or honey. Both hummingbirds and orioles will feed on the same mixture; however, if you are mixing specifically for a hummingbird, the mix should be 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. As a special treat, offer grape jelly (made with sugar; don't use jelly with artificial sweeteners).

The bird was named after the colors on the coat of arms of England's Baltimore family. The family also became among the first administrators of the state of Maryland. It is Maryland's state bird and the namesake of its baseball team.

Orioles belong to the blackbird family, although much more orange than black, and often forage for insects in the treetops, and even so may be more often seen than heard. Males often sing from conspicuous posts, so once you see one singing, learn the song and you may be surprised that they are more numerous than you realize. When fruit ripens, you may find them even more conspicuous than you might like. While they did suffer a decline as large shade trees where they nested, such as the American elm, have become scarce, they remain a well-known songbird.

Q: Interesting sighting at my feeder this morning (April 2). Flock of at least 20 red-winged blackbirds. Also signs of our local black bear raiding the feeders. Spring has sprung!

— Florian, Pittsfield

A: In addition to being summer birds, the red-wing is also a migrant with thousands migrating through our area during March, some even stay. They are attracted to feeders, with a few even managing to survive our winters.

They may be one of our most abundant native birds, although red-wing populations have declined by more than 30 percent throughout most of their range between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They, at least, are among the noisy inhabitants that tell us we are near a wetland. Especially in March, when they frequent seed feeders more than other seasons in the Northeast, and eat mainly insects in the summer and seeds, including corn and wheat, or sometimes feeder seeds in the winter. In fall and winter, they also eat weed seeds such as ragweed and cocklebur and waste grains (whatever they may be).


Thom, I read your column each week in The Bennington Banner. I'm a full-time caregiver of an elderly woman in her late 90s. I've been with her a few years now in North Bennington, Vt. We're along the Walloomsac River, close to a covered bridge. I set up quite a bird feeding station with four bluebird houses stretched along the edge of her field. We've watched the bluebirds care for their young and even had the privilege of seeing them fledge last summer. The birds, along with all of Mother Nature's gifts, we enjoy on a daily basis.

A short time ago, I looked at your page and said to her, "Look at this, Norman made the papers." You see, in order to help her memory and focus, and just for fun, we named all the pairs of birds. The red-bellied woodpeckers are Norman and Esther, blue jays are Eddie and Alice, cardinals, Walter and Edith, red-breasted grosbeaks are Philip and Mary, you get the picture. We also have a bald eagle we see regularly named King! I will, for the rest of my life, think of these birds with these names.

We enjoy the deer, have had bears visit. I'm now bringing the feeders in at night. I tell her nature gives us a gift each and every day. We just need to pay attention and look. I'm sharing all of this with you because I thought you'd really enjoy it as we truly enjoy your column each week. Thank you.

— Linda


The first frog to call in the spring with a "quacking" call is the wood frog, not the gray tree frog. Oops!

— Bennington Banner reader Linda Lyons

Oops is right. So sorry everyone.

— Thom

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.     


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