Written by Kelly Salopek
Photography courtesy Wild Birds Unlimited
When we think of visitors through the Mesilla Valley, we usually think of people, but Las Cruces is also a quick stopover for birds migrating up from South and Central America. Starting in the spring, we Las Crucens might just spot one of the most beautiful travelers of all: the oriole.
“The oriole, is a wonderfully fun and colorful bird that migrates here to New Mexico and stays from April to September,” says Ashley Gurnea, a certified bird feeding specialist at Wild Birds Unlimited. At a recent free, informational talk offered by the local bird specialty store, Ashley explained the ins and outs of attracting this intriguing bird to your own yard.
How To Spot One
Orioles are identified most easily by their striking bright yellow, orange, or even dusty red belly, with black coloration on the head, throat, back, wings, and tail. It is a real treat to see one flitting through our trees and desert yuccas.
Orioles are about the size of a robin or blackbird. The male has a loud, flute-like whistle that makes their song unique. “An oriole’s character is fun, cautious, quick and shy as they generally check out their environment and forage for food sources from the safety of the treetops or as they fly high overhead,” Ashley explains.
There are many species of orioles but these are the main four you will likely see in Las Cruces:
- Bullock’s orioles love the high cottonwoods for nesting, so you’ll find them most often on the west side of the Mesilla Valley. Markings for the males consist of a black cap, throat, and sunglasses and white wing bars with a bright yellow to orange belly. The females are duller in color with a less vibrant body, but may display black or dusky olive sunglasses and similar wing patterns.
- On the east side of town, be on the lookout for the Scott’s orioles, which prefer nesting in yucca plants. The males have a bright, lemon yellow belly; a black head, throat, and back; and often yellow and white wing bars. Females will typically have an olive throat and head with an olive-grey back and a much paler belly than the male.
- The aptly named orchard oriole can be found amongst the pecan and fruit orchards. The males have a dusky red body with a black head and black wing bars, while the females have greyish wings, an olive-yellow belly, and white wing bars.
- A little more rare, but still found in the Valley, hooded orioles prefer palm trees for nesting. Distinguished by their “black hoody,” most have an orange to yellowish belly. The female will be more grey on the back and wings, but will not have a defined head, and will have less vibrant wing bars.
Oriole’s build truly amazing nests woven of fibers from their surroundings. Instead of the traditional cup-shaped nest, these are shaped like a long sock with a small hole at the top. Nests are typically built 25 to 30 feet up in the trees, so they can be difficult to spot amongst the dense foliage.
Orioles will nest where they are confident they can provide food, shelter, and water comfortably. They generally have two broods, one in April and one in July, and you can see them until September when they migrate south to their non-nesting territory.
Bird Spotting Excursion
Young Park has all varieties of trees, water, and open spaces that orioles love, so next time your nearby, pop over and observe to see if you can spot any of these beauties. Another good spotting location is anywhere near the Rio Grande, like at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, just outside of Mesilla. Amidst spacious tall cottonwoods and all the river has to offer in the way of insects and water, you’re sure to spot one of these feathered friends.
Bring on Even More Birds
Learn how to Attract Quails to your yard on July 22 and find out about Bird Feeding to Prevent Unwanted Visitors on August 26. Classes are at the store from 9am to 10am and RSVPs are welcome. Or stop in anytime for all your bird-related supplies.
Wild Birds Unlimited
2001 E. Lohman Ave.
5 Super Simple Ways to Attract Orioles to Your Yard
1. Stock your bowl feeder with insects like mealworms, preferably live at first to really attract a crowd.
2. Mix up a nectar with four parts hot water to one part sugar dissolved—just like you’d make for hummingbirds, but pour into a bowl feeder instead of a hummingbird feeder.
3. Entice them with brightly colored fruit. Oranges, cut in half with flesh side facing the sky, are especially loved. Or try any other dark, ripe fruit such as cherries or plums. They love jelly as well and will scoop up a beak full.
4. Suet is also hit. “We do offer bark butter bits which are really easy for them to get and to feed to their hatchlings,” says Ashley.
5. Maintain a water source, such as a large bird bath that’s shallow enough for them to bathe. The sound of moving water will attract them the most. Ashley says, “We highly recommend a dripper mister system. They can be fitted to any bird bath and the amount of water drip is easily regulated.”