Birds

The arrival of orioles and catbirds heralds the return of insect season

Male Baltimore orioles like this have returned to the Seacoast region.

We started bringing out orange halves for the Baltimore Orioles a few weeks ago and although a couple have shown up and now stop daily to pick the fruit, the most frequent visitor to the oranges is cat.

They are two very different birds. Orioles (males) are bright orange, black and white while catbirds are an understated slate gray all over with a dark cap and rust under the tail. Like the exaggerated Baltimore oriole, you really can’t confuse them with any other bird. It is the only North American bird with uniform gray plumage.

The songs of these two species are also very different. Both are migratory, arriving in our area in time for the insects. Cornell Lab’s “All About Birds” references the pure, liquid, hissing tones of the male Baltimore Oriole as a harbinger of spring in eastern North America. The same could be said for the confusing mixture of hissing, squealing, gurgling, moaning, imitations of other birds’ and frogs’ songs, and even mechanical sounds, as well as their characteristic hoarse “meow” ( hence the name catbird).

A catbird eats a beetle surrounded by a hedge of poison ivy.

For me, having these two birds, along with a host of others, come to my feeders (which I will be taking down soon to avoid attracting bears) makes me happy that we have such a diversity of life in our backyards. -course and that this diversity has managed to adapt quite well to humans. Both of these birds love the kind of open forest and forest edge that are common in suburban areas. Baltimore orioles make those distinctive hanging nests high in deciduous trees, often hanging over roads, rivers or fields, while catbirds prefer the thickets we provide when we cut down forests and leave tangles of shrubs and vines proliferate at the edge of our lawns and roadsides.