In the winter, if you were to see fifty Baltimore Orioles side by side chances are that every one of them would look a bit different from the others. Baltimore Orioles are a highly variable species, with colour ranging from bright orange individuals (like the one in the picture) to those who only show tiny patches of orange. In addition to colour variations, some individuals appear much smaller than others. At first it sounds like it may be hard to identify one of these birds, but you will not have a problem if you remember that two features always stay consistent on every Baltimore Oriole. First, they always have a long thin bill that appears to be light gray or black in colour, similar to the Blue Jay's bill but smaller. The second dependable feature is the presence of yellow-orange plumage, like the colour of an egg yolk, somewhere on the bird. This means that if you see a bird bigger than a sparrow, but smaller than a Blue Jay, and it shows orange it is an oriole. Even the dullest individuals show some orange, usually in the throat or on the rump patch (the patch of feathers immediately above where the base of the tail meets the back). Females are a bit harder to identify than males, but they also have a yellow-orange breast. Their head, back, wings and tail are an olive green.
Baltimore Orioles are less common than the regular backyard birds, so if you are lucky to see an oriole in winter, you may want to help it out. Currently only about fifty percent of the Baltimore Orioles that stay in Nova Scotia make it through our winters. The good news is that the percentage of survivors is increasing as people put out special food for them. Grapes, especially red grapes, are by far the best way to help an oriole or attract an one to your back yard. In addition to the grapes, water is very important for these birds. Once these basics are provided you may want to experiment to see what else they will eat. A friend of mine had an oriole that loved grape jelly!