Orchard oriole (Icterus spurius )

Male orchard oriole side profile
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The orchard oriole is a small and attractive New World oriole.
  • Juvenile orchard orioles have bright yellow plumage which remains the same among females, while the male’s plumage darkens as the individual matures.
  • The orchard oriole is a long-distance migrant, breeding in North America during the summer and spending the winter in South America.
  • The orchard oriole often sings when flying, and produces a wide variety of vocalisations, including whistles and warbles.
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Orchard oriole fact file

Orchard oriole description

GenusIcterus (1)

The genus to which New World orioles belong, Icterus, is derived from the Greek word for ‘yellow’ (3). The female and juvenile orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) have a yellowish colouration, while the male has a slightly duller plumage which becomes darker as the individual ages (2). When fully mature, the male orchard oriole has a black head and chest (4) and the wing and tail feathers are mainly black, with narrow white wingbars (4). The breast and belly are dark chestnut in colour, and this colouration extends to the top of the tail and wings (2) (4). All orchard orioles have a short black bill with a bluish-grey mandible, dark brown irises and bluish-grey legs (4) (5).

The female and juvenile orchard oriole are similar in appearance, with an olive-green upperside and a brighter greenish-yellow underside (2) (4). The wings are brown in colour, with two narrow white wingbars, and the flight feathers have white tips (4). Immature male orchard orioles in their first spring resemble females, except for the black face and bib (2) (4).

The orchard oriole often sings when flying, producing a series of high-pitched warbles, whistles and slurs. There are two distinct song types recognised, one short and one long (4). The longer song is more musical than the shorter, warbling song, which consists of lots of whistles, finished with a downward note. An alarm call comprised of ‘chuck’ and ‘chattering’ calls is used to alert the presence of predators or a disturbance (2) (4). The male orchard oriole is known to respond to the alarm calls of the Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula) (2).

Length: 15 - 18 cm (2)
16 - 25 g (2)

Orchard oriole biology

The orchard oriole feeds mainly on insects and spiders, especially during the breeding season (2) (4). During the winter, this species’ diet includes fruit, insects, spiders, and nectar (2) (4). This bird is known to forage individually, as well as in groups, and during the non-breeding season, flocks of up to 400 individuals have been observed (2) (4). Groups of both fledgling and mature orchard orioles gather around puddles to drink (2).

The orchard oriole’s breeding season starts in April in some areas, and extends throughout the summer months, with some birds having more than one brood per season. The nest is intricately woven from grass by the female over around six days, and lined with fine grass, feathers or cotton (4). The nest is usually attached to the fork of a branch (4), away from the main trunk of the tree (2) (6). The choice of host tree varies greatly, and this species has also been known to nest in giant canes and Spanish moss (2) (4) (7). Both males and females take part in courtship displays, which include bowing, wing fluttering and, in males only, a flight display (2).

A typical orchard oriole clutch contains between three and seven eggs (4). The eggs of this species are oval and pale blue, with dark purplish-brown blotches, spots, dots or irregular lines, mainly towards the larger end (2) (4). The average orchard oriole egg is around 20.7 millimetres long and 14.5 millimetres wide (4).

The female orchard oriole incubates its eggs for between 12 and 14 days, while the male guards the nest, and may feed the female throughout the incubation period (4). Both sexes are involved in the maintenance of the nest and feeding of the young. There is some evidence of co-operative breeding in this species, although it does not always occur. The orchard oriole is thought to be seasonally monogamous on the whole, although pair bonds are not thought to be maintained between years (2).

Brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) frequently occurs in many areas within the range of the orchard oriole (2) (4). The brown-headed cowbird is known to lay its eggs in the nest of this species, and its hatchlings are then fed alongside the orchard oriole chicks, to their detriment (2).

The orchard oriole is a long-distance migratory bird, breeding in eastern North America between of March and August, before travelling south to spend winter in Central America and northern South America (4).


Orchard oriole range

The orchard oriole is found throughout much of central and eastern North America during the breeding season, from southern Canada to Mexico, and from the east coast across to Colorado, Wyoming and Montana (2) (4). Its wintering range extends from central Mexico, south through Central America to Panama, northern Columbia and north-western Venezuela (2) (4).

The orchard oriole is seen rarely during its migration in Cuba, and there are vagrant populations in Bahamas and Jamaica (4).


Orchard oriole habitat

During the breeding season, the orchard oriole prefers open woodland habitat in a diverse range of areas, including rural areas, pastures, riparian borders, orchards, and suburban gardens and parks (2) (4).

During the winter, the orchard oriole is mostly found in lowlands at elevations under 1,300 metres, often in scrub and second growth savannah-type habitats. It might also be seen in roadside trees, parks, gardens and plantations (4)


Orchard oriole status

The orchard oriole is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Orchard oriole threats

The orchard oriole is not globally threatened, and is known to adapt well to artificial habitats. A small decline in numbers was recorded in the United States between 1966 and 1996, but populations are thought to be increasing in Canada (4).

A potential threat to the orchard oriole is habitat degradation which is occurring throughout much of its range, although this species is known to be tolerant of small amounts of disturbance (2).

Any lance use practice that leads to the increase of cowbird brood parasitism, such as grazing of shrub vegetation, will lead to a negative impact on orchard oriole populations (2).


Orchard oriole conservation

The orchard oriole is protected from hunting, trading or disturbance by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (8).


Find out more

Find out more about the orchard oriole:

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Brood parasitism
When an animal lays its eggs in the nests of members of its own or other species, and the host then raises the young as its own.
Co-operative breeding
N birds, when three or more individuals contribute towards raising a single brood at a single nest site. Non-parental helpers at the nest assist with the feeding and raising of young birds.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ scientific species name; the second part is the specific name.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
In birds, the lower jaw and bill, but the term is also used to denote the two parts of the bill.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Relating to the banks of rivers and streams.
An individual found outside the normal range of the species.


  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2014)
  2. Scharf, W.C. and Kren, J. (2010) Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  3. Mobile Reference (2008) The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of North American Birds: An Essential Guide to Common Birds of North America. Mobile Reference.
  4. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Available at:
  5. Audobon, J.J. (1870) The Birds of North America, from Drawings Made in the United States and their Territories. Geo. R. Lockwood and Son, New York.
  6. Wilson, A. (1854) Wilson’s American Ornithology. T.L. Magagnos and Company, New York.
  7. Skutch, A.F. (1996) Orioles, Blackbirds, and their Kin: a Natural History. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.
  8. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Federal Register (2013)

Image credit

Male orchard oriole side profile  
Male orchard oriole side profile

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