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Mon, May 20

Column: Orioles and hummers make their return

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This time of year, we field the same question over and over again here at the Bird Barn. Folks want to know whether or not it is time to put out their hummingbird feeders. The answer is a resounding, "Yes, it is time!"

It is also time to put out your oriole feeders if you live in an area where you see orioles. There are three different species of orioles that frequent the Central Highlands area of Arizona - Bullocks, Scott's and Hooded.

What is an oriole feeder and how does it differ from a hummingbird feeder? The most basic oriole feeders are not much more than a glorified hummingbird feeder. There is a reservoir for sugar water, and the feeder has perches and ports where the birds can sit and access the nectar in the feeder. There are also more elaborate feeders where, in addition to nectar, there are places to secure orange halves as well as a place to put grape jelly! Another food source you can provide to attract orioles is live mealworms!

One thing to keep in mind is that orioles are not seed-eaters. This is one way to distinguish orioles from black-headed grosbeaks and spotted towhees. It is not uncommon in spring to have customers come into the store all excited because they are seeing orioles in their yard. I ask them where they are seeing the orioles, and frequently they tell me that they are seeing them on their seed feeders. When I hear this, I know that what they are seeing are recently arriving black-headed grosbeaks, not orioles.

Interestingly, orioles, grosbeaks and towhees have the same basic colors - black, orange and white - but the arrangement (or pattern) of the colors varies tremendously between each of the species. Another significant difference between orioles, grosbeaks and towhees is their beak structure. Orioles have a long, pointed beak for gleaning insects and gathering nectar from flowers. Grosbeaks and towhees, on the other hand, have short, conical shaped beaks for seed-cracking.

It is not uncommon for folks who don't have oriole feeders to see orioles feeding at their hummingbird feeders. We frequently hear this about woodpeckers as well. Several different varieties of birds like sugar water - not just the hummingbirds.

As a review, the recipe for making hummingbird and oriole nectar at home is to use four parts water for one part sugar. It is also recommended that you bring the sugar solution to a rolling boil on the stovetop when making the nectar. Do not add food coloring, as this is not necessary and could be harmful to the birds.

In general, orioles are fairly skittish and are not as tolerant of human activity near feeders as are hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are very brazen and don't concern themselves too much when there is someone near a feeder. Orioles, on the other hand, spook easily and will fly away if they even see movement inside the house such as when you walk by a window or a sliding door.

The next monthly Audubon meeting is just a week away. The meetings are always free and open to the public. Thursday, April 17, at 7 p.m., Micah Riegner will be presenting a program about his time in Brazil last summer where he worked as a birding guide. The title of his program is 'Brazil Revisited - Birding Adventures in the Southern Amazon.' Arrive early to get a good seat, as I am sure it will be standing room only again this month. I hope you can come.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for over

45 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.

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