Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is it a Northern, a Baltimore, or an Orchard Oriole?

Is this a male Baltimore or Orchard Oriole? Baltimore traits: orange/yellow coloring, long beak, yellow on its tail feathers;
Orchard traits: black tail, shorter beak, chestnut/orange and black coloring;
 Rowe Sanctuary, Nebraska; 7-11-10.

I saw lots of Orioles at the Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary last summer. Now, whether they were Northern, Baltimore or Orchard Orioles is what I wasn't quite sure about.  If I don't hear them sing or call, I can't really tell them apart ... yet ... I hope I get better at it. 

Okay, first things first. I grew up with the only Oriole in my vocabulary was the Baltimore Oriole. After all a baseball team (Below) is named after them, so it must be accurate. Well not so fast.  Ornithologists determined that Baltimore Orioles (the bird from the Eastern 1/2 of the country, not a baseball player) routinely crossbred with the Bullock's Orioles from the Western 1/2 of the country - where their ranges overlapped. The two Orioles and their hybridized offspring were then considered the same species and renamed as the Northern Orioles. And guess what - Nebraska is on the border of both of their ranges. The Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary is in Nebraska - so now I am completely confused. But wait! Through recent molecular studies of DNA shows that the two species are really not very closely related at all and were subsequently separated as two species again - The Baltimore Orioles from the East and the Bullocks Orioles from the West. 

The Baltimore Orioles Baseball team are not really made up of birds.
Some baseball analysts might suggest they are not baseball players either.
Notice the tail on the bird in the logo has orange on it - the artist must have been a birder.
Now whether or not the Baltimore Oriole baseball players crossbreed with baseball players from the West (let's see, St. Louis Cardinals? nope - Midwest; Toronto Blue Jays? nope- Northeast) I am not at able to say. I couldn't find research on the subject. But baseball analysts might say it's a good thing that there are no Western Baseball teams with bird names for the Orioles to breed with since they have been so bad lately. We would not want to spread bad baseball genes. Okay sorry Oriole fans; I got off the topic. My Milwaukee Brewers aren't much better.

The yellow tail suggests that this male oriole is a Baltimore Oriole; Rowe Sanctuary; Neb. 7-11-10.
Back to birding...they (the males) are very similar with a few subtle differences (or perhaps not so subtle if you are an expert): The Baltimore Oriole (8.75" long) is a good 1.5 inches longer and with a wider wingspan than the Orchard Oriole. But for novice birders like me, I need more experience in the field with both species present for me to learn to use this as a certain identifying trait. I would have to have them both in my hand with a ruler to be sure. The color seems to be a good indicator as the Orchard Oriole is more of a darker chestnut orange than the lighter yellowish orange of the Baltimore. Again for me, unless they were side by side in the same light, these colors would not be an automatic identifying trait.  A third trait would be the Baltimore's beak is a bit longer than the the Orchard's. Again...if they were side by side...yadayadayada.  So how do I know? 

A male Baltimore Oriole at Rowe Sanctuary? 7-11-10.
So far I can see the difference between the juvenile Orchards (Below top and middle) and Baltimores, because of the obvious black throat and lores on the young Orchard (during their 1st year before they grow their black and orange feathers during their 2nd year), which are yellow on the Baltimore (Below bottom). Other than that, I try to look at the tail feathers. It seems that the Orchard's tail feathers are more often than not -  all black; whereas, the Baltimore's tail feathers have extensive yellow/orange outer tail feathers (Top two pics). But again I have Googled Orchard Oriole images and have seen some pics labelled as Orchards with orange tail feathers - I am hoping that they were just misidentified. If they weren't, then that shoots my tail feather identifier to pieces.

A juvenile male Orchard Oriole: yellow body with black throat and lores; Rowe Sanctuary, Neb.; 7-11-10

Another juvenile male Orchard Oriole; Rowe Sanctuary, Neb.; 7-11-10.

Is this a juvenile male or a female Baltimore Oriole?  I would lean toward it being a juvie male with its yellow breast. The female Baltimore would have more white on its breast. On the other hand it could be a female Orchard Oriole which also has a yellowish breast and stomach. So is the color of the Oriole in this photo yellowish/green ( like a female Orchard) or yellowish/orange (like a female Baltimore)?
Now distinguishing between female Orchards and Baltimores are entirely a different matter. Looking at pics or drawings in guide books show the female Baltimore with more white on its stomach and the head and back being a dirtier yellow (brownish grayish); whereas, the female Orchard has more yellow all the way around - head, back and stomach.  The Orchard female is described as being more green/yellow, while the female Baltimore is described as being more orange/yellow.  Again, light plays an important role in whether I seeing yellow/green or yellow/orange. (Above pic)

These look like a pair of young Baltimore Orioles; at left a juvie male and at right a female with its whiter breast;
 Rowe Sanctuary; 7-11-10.

In the end, if I am still not sure which is which, I'd have to give the Baltimore Oriole the benefit of the doubt because it is more common and widespread than the Orchard Oriole.


Anonymous said...

My guess would be the Baltimore as well...I know we see tons more of those in this area than the orchard grandma always said the orchard male is more orange....I know we have tons of Baltimore orioles here in Omaha...not sure we ever see the Northern one! very nice picture again!

~Val said...

Whatever they are - they are so beautiful!!