Northern OrioleIcterus galbula (Linnaeus)
Status Uncommon transient, rare in summer and winter. Breeds. There are no nineteenth-century reports other than Chamberlain's (1887b) record of one collected near Halifax in September 1886. During the past 50 years the status of this species has changed from rare to generally uncommon in all parts of the province. Spring birds generally appear in early May (average 6 May, earliest 17 April). Sometimes these are seen in large numbers, especially along the southwestern coast and islands; however, only a few remain to breed. There are nesting reports from the southwestern part of the province, including Halifax and Kings counties. This small summer population is augmented by fall transients, easily detectable where the species does not nest, which generally first appear in late August (average 27 August, earliest 16 August). Daily estimates of 10-20 birds are routine on Brier and Seal islands in September—on 1-3 October 1967 an estimated 150 were on Seal Island. During late November and early December, Northern Orioles often appear in rural and urban gardens, and they occur regularly on Christmas Bird Counts throughout the province. A few have been sustained at feeders into January, and two birds in Halifax remained at feeders into spring.
Description Length: 18-20 cm. Adult male: Head, neck, throat, upper back, scapulars and central tail feathers black; wings black, the wing coverts tipped with white; rest of plumage bright orange. Adult female: Crown, back and tail yellowish brown, mottled with black; rump and underparts dull orange, brighter on breast; wings dark blackish brown with white bars, the feathers edged with buff.
Breeding Nest: Composed of fine grasses, fine strips of pliable bark, plant fibres, string and similar materials interwoven neatly and securely. The nest is wholly pensile from near the end of a long limb, usually of an elm, at heights of 3-12 m or more. The 16 nests that have come to my attention were all close to human habitation and in elms, except one in a maple. Eggs: 4-6; grayish white with strange, scroll-like markings and blotches of black and dark brown. Some nest dates are: 18 June 1938 at Berwick, Kings County, both birds feeding young in nest; 16 June 1939, a pair at Digby nesting in a maple tree (L. Daley); and 21 June 1954, a pair building in an elm tree at Mill Village, Queens County. In the last instance the female was in charge of construction but the male was often in close attendance and on occasion brought her choice pieces of material to work into the nest. The pair was last seen feeding young in this nest on 12 August (L. Mack). Nestings have been reported more widely since.
Range Breeds from southern British Columbia, central Alberta, southern Manitoba and southwestern Quebec, south to Georgia, Louisiana and into Mexico in the west. Winters from southern Mexico to northern South America, occasionally further north at feeders.
Remarks This bird is sometimes called a "golden robin," a tribute to the striking brilliance of the male's plumage. It feeds largely on insects and is known to be partial to tent caterpillars and potato beetles making it economically, as well as aesthetically, valuable.
The nest is so ingeniously interwoven and so securely fastened that it often will withstand gales and storms for several years before the last vestige of material is blown away. In summer it is well concealed among leaves and difficult to find, but in winter, when the branches are bare, it is conspicuous as it sways in the wind.
The behaviour of some birds in late fall indicates that their migratory urge has expired. For many years, Louise Daley, a well-known bird-lover in Digby, cared for some of these stranded waifs. She first enticed them into a simple box-trap and then placed them in a cage, where she fed them fresh grapes and bird foods procured from pet shops. Long before their release in spring, it was not uncommon for the male orioles to be in full song.
The breeding orioles of Nova Scotia belong to the subspecies Icterus galbula galbula, the "Baltimore Oriole," as distinguished from the western "Bullock's Oriole," Icterus galbula bullocki, and related subspecies. Some birds appearing here in late fall have been identified as "Bullock's Orioles." The first was kept alive at a feeding station in Halifax in December 1969 and January 1970. It was said to be an intergrade, although largely bullockii (W.E. Godfrey, personal communication with I.A. McLaren, 1970). A few "Bullock's"-like females have been seen since, with gray backs without dark streaks, gray bellies, and yellow, rather than orange, breasts and undertail coverts. A more distinctive immature male, again with a gray back and a black throat and eyeline, was seen on Seal Island on 8 October 1978 (several observers) and one was photographed at Ian A. McLaren's feeder in Halifax in late December that year. One of the even more distinctive adult males came to Margaret Clark's feeder in Halifax during November 1982. An immature male on Seal Island on 26 May 1982 was well described by Michael Crowell and James McLaren.
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