Jun 19, 2019 | Featured Web Article

How Orioles Weave Their Nests

Constructing an oriole nest is a feat of engineering. The job can take from one week to 15 days to complete, with the female of a pair selecting the nest site and doing most of the labor.

Nine species of oriole can be found in the U.S., but the Bullock's and Baltimore species are the most widespread and most likely to build nests and raise families close to human settlements. These nests are considered to be among the most intricate and awe-inspiring bird creations that can be found in North America. If you're lucky enough to find an oriole nest in your backyard or neighborhood this year, you'll be looking at the culmination of several days' hard work on the part of these vibrant orange and black birds.

Constructing an oriole nest is a feat of engineering. The job can take from one week to 15 days to complete, with the female of a pair selecting the nest site and doing most of the labor. She'll spend several hours weaving more than 10,000 stitches and tying thousands of knots using only her beak to create a pouch-like, six-inch-deep nest. Meanwhile, the male supplies building materials and inspects the home's quality as the work progresses.

Orioles favor plant fibers when weaving their nests, selecting strips of milkweed stem, grapevine bark, and other thin, pliable materials. They will also use animal fibers such as hair from horses' manes and tails to create their homes. Additionally, orioles may incorporate pieces of manmade string and yarn that they happen across in nature. If you're tempted to offer them these crafty materials, please use only plant- or animal-based fibers, and trim the lengths down to less than two inches to alleviate the risk of nestlings becoming tangled in the strands.

Once construction is finally complete, a woven oriole nest will have a small entrance at its top, with an inner chamber lined with soft materials such as plant down, loose fur from animals, and fine grasses. The exterior of these nests is often gray in appearance, with a pendulous shape and markedly basket-like quality. You'll spot them hanging on the slender twigs of trees' outer branches, suspended up to 45 feet above the ground. This seemingly dangerous placement is a strategic move on the birds' part: most climbing predators are unable to access oriole nests at this precarious height and location.

For all the effort that goes into creating an oriole nest, these homes are typically used for only one breeding season. Orioles build new nests each year, but old nests may sometimes be refurbished or salvaged for reusable fibers to rebuild fresh homes when they return from their winter ranges in the southern tropics.

To find out how you can attract orioles to your backyard »

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  • That doesn't address my concern about the bird houses. I'm on a tiny piece of property (40x100) so there's not much room to plant a heck of a lot or places birds could put nests once the bird houses are gone.
    by Linda DiPierro, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Plant some native plants in your yard that will attract pollinators and produce berries and nuts. There should be a local society that has a list of recommended plants, shrubs, and trees.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Same concerns here. See above post. For your situation I would consider planting a few native plants that will naturally produce berries and seeds that the birds in your area need to survive. Try planting some that will yield foods for all seasons.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • I've thought about this myself. One thing I considered doing is leaving behind some bird food and a gift card to my local wild bird store with a note asking the new homeowners to please continue feeding the birds. Don't know how well that work but it's worth a try.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • thanks for the article. I believe that I may have spotted my first hairy woodpecker this morning. we see the downy woodpecker often. it's small. the hairy woodpecker, when compared with the downy, is HUGE. also, the downy feeds at the feeder like most birds--standing upright. This bird, because of its size, hung from the feeder perch with most of it's body below the feeder--like the red belly woodpeckers that we see often. we live is strasburg va. is it possible that we saw a hairy woodpecker this morning?
    by PEretired, Sat, 23 May 2020