This brightly colored songbird is a member of the blackbird family Icteridae. Males display distinctive yellow to orange bodies with black tails, back, caps and throat and a large white wing patch. Females are subtly colored with light yellow heads and breasts, white bellies and olive backs. The individual shown here is a first year male, not yet showing the characteristic black head cap or a well developed black throat. He was practicing his singing, though.
This species breeds in the western United States, up into northwestern Canada, and down into Mexico. They favor hardwood deciduous trees for breeding habitat and may occupy riparian forests and forest edges. In drier regions they will make nests in mesquite and cedars. They weave nests that hang pendulously from branches. Both males and females will sing. Both parents also cooperate in feeding the 4-6 nestlings. The bird shown here was in trees along a fence line with a large open pasture on one side and an urban neighborhood across the street.
They forage on a wide variety of insects in the forest canopy and in shrubbery, but seldom hunt on the ground. They will fly out from a perch to capture prey on the wing. They also take fruits and flower nectar, and will visit hummingbird feeders to drink the sugar water if the feeder has a perch. They don’t take seeds from feeders, however.
Orioles migrate to central and southern Mexico for winter where they again seek out forest edges and open woodlands.
Bullock’s and Baltimore orioles were once thought to be a single species, the Northern oriole, due to the fact that the eastern Baltimore orioles will interbreed with the western Bullock’s in areas where the two populations overlap in the Great Plains, producing viable hybrids. Taxonomists have subsequently decided to consider the east and west populations separate species, and thus the Bullock’s name for our western bird. Baltimore orioles do not occur in New Mexico, so no hybrids will be found here. This species is considered stable and not under threat of habitat loss. With continued climate warming the range of the species may even enlarge farther out to the east into the Great Plains.