Despite requests not to travel, there are literally millions of part-time residents flying into this country from the south across the U.S./Mexico international border.
Don't be alarmed though, they won't be spreading any coronavirus; instead they will be cheering us up: they are brightly colored Bullock's Orioles, arriving north to nest and raise their babies through the West.
Male Bullock's Orioles are hard to miss, for they are one of our most colorful birds. They are about the size of a Brewer's Blackbird, and they have sunburst yellow-orange bodies, black backs, caps and throats, and white wing patches. They also have a thin black eye stripe extending back from their pointed bill to their head. Females and immature males are paler yellow with brownish gray backs.
Local residents often encounter Bullock's Orioles (Icterus bullockii) when they show up at hummingbird feeders to try for a little sugar water. Some hummingbird feeders are deliberately configured without perches to discourage the orioles, but I welcome these lovely songbirds to help themselves at hummingbird feeders.
I remember that my great-aunt, who moved to the old Tehachapi farm where I live in 1921, had a four-way glass hummingbird feeder with the standard red plastic flower-shaped openings. These had little yellow plastic screen inserts to exclude bees and wasps. Well, these circular screen plugs were also an impediment to the orioles, so they would simply land on a feeder perch, pull out the insert, and fling it to the ground under the feeder. All four of them. Every day.
She finally glued them in so the orioles couldn't do their daily screen toss, and then she felt badly that the orioles weren't able to get to the nectar, so she put up a second feeder that was oriole-friendly.
Orioles are chattery, vocal birds, and they have both a pleasant song and then a harsher, scolding call. Interestingly, female orioles like to sing and call as much as the males, which is uncommon in songbirds.
The peak migration period for arriving Bullock's Orioles is mid-April to mid-May, so now is the time. When they get here, oriole couples go right to work nesting. The female does most of the work building an remarkable woven nest, using all kinds of found fibers, including horse hair, grass, string, strands from worn out poly tarps, baling twine, etc.
The orioles work for about two weeks weaving these well-made, pendulous nests. The parents typically suspend the nests on slender, flexible twigs far from the main trunk in cottonwoods, willows, Siberian elms, sycamores, poplars and other trees.
Having the nests out on willowy, whip-like branches, away from sturdy limbs, helps make the nests less vulnerable to predators. After the nest is woven, the parents line in it with soft material like cottonwood fluff, wool, foraged cotton, or soft dried grasses.
As brightly colored as the males are, you'd think it would very simple to spot the nests, but orioles usually do a great job concealing them. When I was a little kid I used to look for the abandoned nests in autumn, when the leaves had fallen and the orioles were long gone.
Oddly, I still have a few of these nests I collected long ago when I was still in single digits. I used the nests as little storage pouches and put in other objects I'd find, like acorn caps, interesting pebbles, feathers, seashells and more. Like many children, I had naturalist tendencies from the time I could walk. I just didn't outgrow them.
Orioles aren't seed eaters, but instead eat a variety of insects, including caterpillars, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, ants, small spiders and the like. They also love fruit and nectar. Sometimes they stick their sharp pointed bills into ripe fruit, then spread their bill to create an opening, and lap up the sweet pooling juice with the brushy tip on the end of their tongue. Ornithologists call this feeding behavior "gaping."
Just because orioles don't come to wild birdseed feeders, that doesn't mean you can't draw orioles to your yard if they are in your area. My friend Mary Dufrain, a talented photographer who has taken many great images of Tehachapi birds over the years, shared these oriole photos, and had this to say:
"I thought those of us who are sheltering in place may like to know of the orioles' returning presence. If they wanted to try to attract these beautiful birds to their backyard feeders, a favorite food source is a hummingbird feeder with a perch, or a grape jelly feeder. Suet is always appreciated and sometimes they will come to oranges set out in the open. Returning nesting birds are the only welcome visitors we are allowed at this time!" Mary observed.
I'm gladly the radiantly-colored Bullock's Orioles are starting to arrive again. They are always welcome, but there's a little extra joy at seeing them this strange spring.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org