On this cool, sunny morning, an excellent variety of birds were moving about Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, on the Missouri River floodplain; within 2 hours, I had observed 43 species. Among these were a fair number of orchard orioles, the first I have seen this year.
Unlike their well-known Baltimore cousin, the male orchard oriole sports dark, rust-colored plumage, set off by a black head, chest, tail and wings. Though a fairly common summer resident throughout the central and eastern U.S., it does not generally arrive until late spring and often leaves for wintering grounds (in Central and northern South America) by August. Like most orioles, orchard orioles build a pouch-like nest that is suspended from a forked, distal limb of a shade tree; unlike most species, it is a colonial nester, often tolerating the close presence of other birds as well.
Orchard orioles prefer open woodlands, especially along streams. While their name suggests a fondness for fruit, they feed primarily on insects during the summer months, snaring prey from vegetation or directing from the ground. They do supplement their diet with berries, however, and, on their wintering grounds, consume the flowers and nectar of some tropical plants, playing a significant role in their pollination.