Spring has sprung. Out my window I can hear the birds of spring. newly returned from their winter migration. It reminds me that because of my Viking river cruise on the Rhine next month, my friend Dennis and I won’t likely be able to make our annual trek down to Point Pelee, Ontario, to catch the peak of the migration.
I’ll miss our birding trip: in a good year, it’s a brilliant burst of colour and life, with birds of a hundred species filling the woods, in their most vivid breeding colours. But luckily, when you’re a photographer, there’s always a photo to stir some good memories. Like this one, captured on a sunny spring day in High Park, Toronto’s huge nature park on the western edge of the city.
Baltimore (or Northern) orioles are one of the most colourful birds of spring in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Each spring the female oriole scours the local forest to find just the right strands of vegetation to knit a long, pendulous “onion bag” nest that hangs down from a tree branch. Then she’ll lay her eggs (typically four), and a few weeks, it will be filled with chirping chicks. Both the male and female defend their nest with a gusto, driving off any other oriole that comes too close.
Despite their bright colour, orioles are related to blackbirds. And there are many kinds in the New World: Bullock’s orioles, orchard orioles, Altamira orioles, streak-backed orioles, hooded orioles … But to me, the Baltimore oriole is the most beautiful, especially the male (seen here), with its jet-black head contrasting against the brilliant orange plumage. To complete the picture, it has a lovely, flute-like song, unmistakeable to anyone who’s heard it more than once.
This photo is particularly appropriate this week since the Baltimore Oriole will soon be in town to take on Toronto’s baseball Blue Jays — a clash of the northern birds. But in case you were wondering, orioles weren’t named after the ball team, or its city. The name came from Baron Baltimore, the 17th-century proprietary governor of Maryland, and at one point governor of Newfoundland. The bird’s orange hue resembled the colour on his coat of arms.
If you keep an eye out, you’re likely to see (and hear) an oriole over the next few weeks. If you do, you might even put out some food: they love sweets, so they’ll come to sip grape jelly from a dish, or even to drink sugar water from a feeder, like a hummingbird. And though it seems too obvious — they do like a nice, ripe orange.