Bullock's orioles help usher in spring migration

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Color has returned to Northern New Mexico.

Bullock's orioles are beginning to show up. This bright orange and black-colored bird is a member of the Icteridae family along with blackbirds, meadowlarks and other orioles. It's a sure sign of spring when the Bullock's orioles return. These fruit, insect and nectar eaters winter in Mexico, where they can find food, but return north in April.

It's not uncommon to see Bullock's orioles raid a hummingbird feeder or pluck a bloom from a flower. Some of the Bullock's we see right now are just moving through but some will stick around to nest. Once nesting begins Bullock's Orioles are not quite as visible. They nest high in tree tops and weave a hanging sock-like nest from plant fibers. Both the male and the duller colored female help with nest building.

Although Bullock's orioles can be seen at hummingbird feeders, they can also be attracted by offering sugar water from a nectar feeder built to accommodate their larger size. They will also sometimes come to feeders with orange halves or grape jelly.

It's best to put out fruit, nectar or grape jelly early for orioles. If food isn't there when they first check out your yard, they are likely to keep going. Keep fruit and other food fresh for best results.

Both the male and female Bullock's oriole sing. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Bullock's oriole was described and named by William Swainson in 1827, drawing on material collected by English father-and-son naturalists, both named William Bullock, in Mexico.

The yellow and black Scott's oriole also nests in our area and is more likely seen in open, arid areas. It builds its nest in shorter trees than does the Bullock's oriole. The Scott's can be attracted by the same foods as the Bullock's.

Also, both black-chinned and broad-tailed hummingbirds have returned. Both of these hummingbirds nest in our area and can be attracted with a four parts boiled water to one part white table sugar mixture. Change your nectar twice a week whether you see any hummers or not. Orioles like the same nectar recipe as do hummingbirds.

Other spring migrants to look for include the Say's phoebe, black phoebe, barn swallow, mockingbird and western meadowlarks. Some lesser goldfinches stick around all winter, but we are seeing more and more of these bright yellow nyger (or thistle) eaters in the last week or so.

The next month or so brings the widest variety of birds of the whole year. Don't miss out. Keep seed, suet, nectar and other feeders full and fresh. Placing several bird baths around your yard always makes a big difference in the number of species you attract.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe, and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of "For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard" and "Birdhouses of the World." The New Mexican is a sibling publication of The Taos News.

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