The Hard Work of Being a Bird Parent

Monday, June 11, 9 am

The days have turned hot and the cicadas are singing in full force. Even though it is not yet the 97 degrees it is supposed to be later today, there is a cool freshness to the air, especially in the shade of the Valley oaks and Oregon ash trees I am walking under. As I walk, I am aware of the sound of baby birds of all types crying their hungry sounds. There is an insistence to their notes as they beg for food and this is what stands out to me. Here are the birds I see feeding their young fledglings: Song and Chipping sparrows, Chestnut backed chickadees, Lazuli buntings, Western scrub jays, Orange crowned warblers, Western bluebirds, Western wood peewees, Dark- eyed juncos, White breasted nuthatches, and then the birds I finally see in their nest and I am able to photograph, the Bullocks orioles.

The way I find this well camouflaged nest , in a very large Valley oak tree,is by hearing the extremely loud baby orioles begging for food from the nest.The Bullock oriole, Icterus bullocki, is our most common and widespread oriole but it is always a thrill to see one. Their loud chattering and beautiful songs cause me to smile every time! Both male and female Bullock’s Orioles sing—the male more sweetly, the female often more prolifically.

The male Bullocks oriole is a bright orange yellow with a black line through the eye and some black on the head. the female is a soft yellow and grey. They build their hanging cup or sack-like nest intricately  woven from many different materials such as fishing line, woven fabric, string of any type, and where there are only natural materials, they use lichens, such as the long net lichen, Ramalina or Usnea. This is the material that this nest is made of and it makes it very hard to find because it blends in with the rest of the lichens that are hanging from the tree. Orioles mostly eat insects but, as some of my friends tell me, they also love fruit and nectar and will come to feeders to eat them.

As I watch, the parents are busily gathering insects of all kinds to feed their loud children. It seemed like they are feeding every couple of minutes, sometimes just one of the parents and sometimes both. It is a frenzy of eating when they arrive. At one point the female gets in the nest with the young babies and takes a rest. I try to make out what insects these industrious hard-working parents are feeding their babies but it is just a blur. One photo, I take, shows what looks like a great big bee. I see the mouths of the babies pen as wide as possible to be filled. It is time for me to head back and I wish the parents and babies good luck, may they all fledge and become beautiful adult Bullocks orioles!