Tips from Johnson County Gardeners on How to Attract These Iconic, Colorful Birds to Your Garden This Spring

The rain stopped early Saturday morning, just long enough for the Baltimore Orioles to drop by for a quick breakfast.

Songbirds with black and orange plumage have a fairly simple appetite: grape jelly and orange slices.

And some local Johnson County gardeners have enjoyed attracting the colorful birds to their gardens and keeping them well fed this spring.

At the Stilwell House of Linda Patterson, a master gardener at the K-State Extension Office in Johnson County, it’s calm and scenic, a respite for these shy songbirds.

Yet even in the heart of suburban Johnson County, many other home gardeners have been fortunate enough to attract orioles to their gardens.

Almost any backyard can be turned into an oriole’s paradise as they pass through Johnson County this spring, say those who have tried.

Here are some tips and tricks from three local master gardeners on how to attract orioles to your garden:

What to look for (and where to look)

Know what to look for: the characteristic plumage of a male Baltimore Oriole, consisting of black and orange feathers, and the yellow body of a female with darker wings and back. Some young males may look like adult females until their darker plumage develops. Photo credit Dale Beckerman.

First of all, you need to know what you are looking for. Spot a small bird with black feathers on its back and head and a chest and belly of red-orange feathers.

There should be some white feathers on the wings of the bird. He’s a male Baltimore Oriole.

A female Baltimore Oriole will have predominantly yellow colored feathers all over, except for her wings. Its wings are mostly dark with some intermixed white feathers.

Orchard orioles can also make an occasional appearance in your garden. Patterson of the K-State Extension Office said they were very shy and she didn’t see them often.

Orioles are often spotted by hummingbird feeders because they love sweet water. They also like bright colors, so bird feeders that are painted in bright colors or that contain shiny objects (like oranges) might attract these birds.

Start now (in May)

If you want to attract orioles to your garden, start preparing now. May is the best time to prepare, say master gardeners. (Early May is most ideal, so it doesn’t hurt to start preparing for next year.)

Scout birds are this time of year foraging for food and homes as other orioles migrate north for the summer. Early May is the time to put in some food so the Scouts can find it and tell their friends about it.

“We see the Boy Scouts come in every few days and check in, and then it’s almost like clockwork for Mother’s Day,” said Sandy Bonar, a master gardener from Prairie Village, who has started attracting songbirds there. years ago.

Keep it sweet

The Baltimore Orioles apparently have a sweet tooth.

Some master gardeners say they are lucky to attract birds with oranges and grape jelly.

Oranges are bright and flashy in color, which helps attract orioles in the first place.

Once orioles establish your feeder as a pit stop, they can ignore oranges and focus only on grape jelly. It really depends.

Make sure you cut the oranges at least in half so that the orioles can more easily pluck the flesh.

“I was putting on grape jelly and oranges both because they could see oranges and come and then discover grape jelly,” Patterson said. “We just found them because they were drawn to the hummingbird feeder. We didn’t even know there were orioles around. But once we saw them we thought, let’s see what we can do because they’re fun to watch.

Choose your feeder

Buy a bird feeder specifically for orioles or make your own.

Choose a feeder that can easily dispense grape jelly. There are many options for bird feeders. Some commercial grade feeders are designed specifically for orioles.

Bonar’s bird feeder is orange because orioles love bright colors. However, some feeders use thick black wire that allows you to arrange the oranges, as well as containers to hold the jelly.

Some gardeners have been lucky to keep it simpler.

For example, Patterson uses two pie pans, which are easy to fill and move around. Patterson regularly fills aluminum trays with grape jelly and attaches them to the railing of his back deck.

Give them privacy

The placement of your oriole feeder is a strategy in itself.

Orioles are timid birds by nature, so try placing your feeder near a tree. Patterson said his orioles appear to be hiding in a nearby tree, watching the feeder until they feel it’s safe to get out, and then fly down to eat.

On the other hand, your bird feeder needs visibility.

Dale Beckerman, a master gardener from Prairie Village, recommends giving your bird feeder plenty of space so orioles will have an easier time finding it.

No matter where you place your feeder, make sure you can watch it from several feet away or through your house window. Orioles are generally shy and can fly away if you get too close.

Keep your feeder well stocked

You might spot darker looking orioles. They are orioles of orchards and often migrate with Baltimore orioles. Photo credit Dale Beckerman.

At the height of the migration season in May, orioles are very fond of eating. With regular feeding (and a little luck and dedication), some might decide to stay in your yard all summer.

For Patterson, many orioles will pass, but a few seem to linger.

“We’ll have enough during the migration season that I usually have to go through a jar of jelly a day until they decide to leave,” Patterson said. “But we have a few that are left, and we know they build a nest because we sometimes find nesting material near the feeders.”

After their babies hatch, they come to the feeder with their parents, who sometimes give them grape jelly from the feeders for a few days before the baby birds start to eat on their own.

Patterson said she fed orioles for about four or five years before any of the birds stayed all summer. Some, she says, will now stay until September.

Look for other critters

Other birds and critters apparently need their dose of sugar too, so be on the lookout.

“I have a beautiful, beautiful garden, and we feed the birds year round,” Bonar said. “It’s just a refuge for wildlife, as long as they’re not rabbits. It is an attractive place for them. Not that I think you have to have this, but I just think it’s a really welcome environment for them.

Patterson regularly sees summer tanagers (red birds that look like cardinals), loyal yellow-bellied woodpeckers, and a blue jay who all like to eat grape jelly. The peaks also seem to favor oranges.

Patterson takes his aluminum trays indoors at night to avoid the attention of “resourceful” raccoons.


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