Daily calls this past week have brought me news of oriole sightings at local feeders. The first came from Isleford, where both orchard orioles and northern orioles are being seen. The northern oriole used to be called the Baltimore oriole, and it is so listed in older bird books. Both of these tropical birds are very nice to see. The northern orioles nest here regularly. I don’t know the status here of the orchard oriole at this moment.
The northern oriole especially likes elm trees. Elm trees are very easy to recognize for they are tall, 50 feet or more, with no branches on the lower trunk. At the top of the tree trunk, the branches spread out like a lovely, slightly off-center umbrella gracefully placed there. There is a fine elm tree in a field on the road to Bar Harbor that gives you an exceptional view near McFarland’s Hill. You can see its distinctive shape there with Blue Hill Mountain behind it as you drive across the island heading to Somesville. There is also a beautiful elm in Southwest Harbor on Route 102 heading towards Seawall. It is right next to the road, but in spite of the wires nearby, it is a handsome specimen.
Elm trees are well known for having orioles’ nests hanging like exquisite fiber cradles from their lower limbs. The nest this bird builds is most unusual, and usually only the female does the building of the nest. After the pair mates and decides to nest in a chosen location, the female starts to build her pear-shaped nest. She uses plant fibers, moss, hair, bits of string, yarn, even some fabrics if they are found, and using only her beak for a weaving tool, she fashions a very strong structure that may even swing in the breezes for several years. The male does not usually take part in nest building, but he is nearby giving encouragement.
The female starts her nest by hanging long strands over the twigs and forming a framework for the other materials she weaves intricately into them. The process takes several days to complete. As soon as both the outside and the inside linings are complete, she lays her four or five eggs in this nest. She then does most of the incubating. The male is always nearby, and he often sings to her on the nest, and she will sometimes answer him. When the eggs hatch, both parents share in feeding and raising the young. Both orioles nest here and then spend the winter in the warm tropics.
The orchard oriole is less common on the island, but they are briefly seen here each year. When any orioles come to your feeder, offer them cut up oranges and other such fruit and be sure your hummingbird feeders are full, for they also will drink from them. Orioles like nectar. Look in your bird book so you’ll recognize these lovely birds when and if they arrive in your yard. They have been wintering in Central America.
A most interesting drama took place this past week on Isleford with a great blue heron. The residents of the house were inside when all of a sudden a great blue heron came tapping and crashing about at their kitchen window, with its numerous frames of glass. I’ve had many reports of cardinals and robins and other smaller birds fighting their reflections in a window, but this is the first time I’ve heard that a great blue heron has behaved this way. How the bird caught sight of its reflection is hard to imagine, but its behavior was that of a bird defending its territory in the breeding season. The heron almost knocked itself out but did recover and then flew off in the direction in which others herons had flown. The late Alfred Hitchcock, whom many of you may remember, might have enjoyed this encounter.
A friend in Somesville has a white–throated sparrow nesting near his place. This lovely and beautiful sparrow is a very friendly bird and makes a good neighbor. These birds nest on the ground. One nest I found in my woods one year was under a bunchberry plant and pretty much invisible unless you were very observant. This sparrow has a very nice song and you can learn it quickly and at times communicate with the bird. If you can whistle, you can “talk” to this sparrow once you learn its call. There are many sparrows on the island, but the white-throated sparrow is a very special one.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.