Despite breeding along parts of the West Coast and in the southwestern U.S., the Hooded Oriole has been little studied. In parts of its range it favors palm trees, while in other areas it uses a wider variety of plants. The increasing popularity of providing hummingbird feeders has resulted in overwintering of Hooded Orioles in the U.S. being more common.
Like the more widespread and familiar Baltimore Oriole, the Hooded Oriole builds a suspended, sac-like nest. Both Bronzed Cowbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds are known to parasitize oriole nests, and are believed to be a reason for the species’ decline in Texas.
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Description of the Hooded Oriole
The Hooded Oriole is sexually dimorphic, with both sexes having the somewhat long, bluish-black bill typical of orioles, though with a noticeably decurved shape in this species.
Males are yellowish-orange to brilliant orange on the head, nape, and underparts, with black upperparts, a black throat, and a large white patch on each wing. Length: 8 in. Wingspan: 10 in.
Females are dingy yellowish on the underparts, with dull, grayish upperparts, and two white wing bars on grayish wings.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles resemble females. First spring males resemble adult males but are more yellow and have a smaller white wing patch. Juvenile males have a dark throat patch.
Hooded Orioles inhabit open woodlands, riparian areas, palm trees, and parks or gardens with mature trees.
Hooded Orioles eat insects, berries, and nectar.
Hooded Orioles forage within trees and shrubs, sometimes visiting flowers or bird feeders for nectar.
Hooded Orioles breed in the southwestern U.S. and California. They winter in Mexico. The population has declined in some areas and increased in others in recent decades.
Hooded Orioles often nest in city palms, and frequent hummingbird feeders for nectar.
There are five subspecies of Hooded Orioles, with eastern birds being more orange and western birds being yellowish-orange.
The song consists of a varied assortment of slurred whistles and notes. A short “chet” call is given as well.
Altamira Orioles have thicker bills, ranges overlap in south Texas.
Female Orchard Orioles are similar than female Hooded but are smaller and slightly more colorful.
The Hooded Oriole’s nest is a deep, hanging pouch of plant fibers and grass and is lined with finer materials. It is often placed in a palm or yucca.
Number: Usually lay 4 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12-14 days, and fledge at about 14 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Hooded Oriole
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Hooded Oriole – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
now Hooded Oriole
ICTERUS CUCULLATUS SENNETTI Ridgway
This is a northeastern race of a Mexican species, ranging from Tamaulipas, in northeastern Mexico, into the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. According to Ridgway (1902), it is “similar to I. c. cucullatus, but lighter in color; adult males less decidedly orange, the color of pileum, chest, etc., deep cadmium yellow, never cadmium orange; adult females much lighter in color, the yellow of the under parts dull or pale gamboge instead of saffron or ochreous, the back and scapulars lighter grayish, and light olive-greenish of pileum, rump, etc., clearer; wing and tail averaging decidedly shorter.”
In the lower Rio Grande Valley, Sennett’s hooded oriole is an abundant and familiar summer resident. George B. Sennett (1878) reported it as “very common in the vicinity, and among timber of any respectable growth.” He found it “more plentiful than all the rest of the genus combined.” James C. Merrill (1878) says: “This is perhaps the most common Oriole in this vicinity during the summer, arriving about the last week in March. It is less familiar than Bullock’s Oriole, and, like the preceding species, is usually found in woods.” When I visited Brownsville in 1923 we found this oriole very common in the woods and about the ranches and towns, where we found several nests. On his visit, a year later, Herbert Friedmaun (1925) found it very common, “close to houses at times; in fact they seem not to mind human presence at all.” He found 16 nests.
Nesting: The early accounts of the nesting habits of Sennett’s hooded oriole differ considerably from what recent observers have noted. Sennett (1878) wrote:
Their usual nesting places are the hanging trusses of Spanish moss, everywhere provokingly abundant on the larger growth of trees. I have also found their nests on the lower limbs of trees and the drooping outer branches of undergrowth; but wherever found, the inevitable Spanish moss enters largely or wholly into their composition. So durable is this moss that it lasts for years, and as a consequence there are everywhere ten old nests to one new one. The heart of the moss when separated from its white covering becomes the “curled hair” of commerce. The Hooded Oriole takes this dry vegetable hair, and ingeniously weaves it into the heart of a living truss of moss, making a secure and handsome home. I took one no higher than my head, and others thirty feet or more from the ground.
Later, he wrote (1879): “One nest was discovered, in a corn-field, made of Spanish moss, which was interwoven with a couple of leaves of two corn-stalks, which it thus bound together; another was found in a truss of Spanish moss, having dried grasses for lining, instead of the usual dead and black hairlike moss. In several nests were horsehair and tufts of goats’ wool.”
Merrill’s (1878) account is somewhat similar:
The nests of this bird found here are perfectly characteristic, and cannot he confounded with those of any allied species; they are usually found in one of the two following situations: the first and most frequent is in a hunch of hanging moss, usually at no great height from the ground; when so placed, the nests are formed almost entirely by hollowing out and matting the moss, with a few filaments of a dark hair-like moss as lining; the second situation is in a bush (the name of which I do not know) growing to a height of about six feet, a nearly bare stem throwing out two or three irregular masses of leaves at the top; these bunches of dark green leaves conceal the nest admirably; it is constructed of filaments of the hair-like moss just referred to, with a little Spanish moss, wool, or a few feathers for lining; they are rather wide and shallow for Orioles’ nests, amid, though strong, they appear thin and delicate. A few pairs build in Spanish bayonets (Yucce) growing on sand ridges in the salt prairies; here the nests are built chiefly of the dry, tough fibres of the plant, with a little wool or thistle-down as lining; they are placed among the dead and depressed leaves, two or three of which are used as supports.
Bendire (1895) says of a nest built in a yucca: “One now before me, in an excellent state of preservation, measures exteriorly 3% inches in depth by 3 inches in width; the inner cup is 2% inches wide by 2 inches deep. It is built throughout of yucca fiber and contains 110 lining.
“Nidilication begins in April, and the earliest record of a full clutch of eggs having been taken is April 17, a set of five; the latest was July 5; probably two broods are raised in a season.”
Perhaps the Spanish “moss” had largely disappeared from the vicinity of Brownsville at the time of our visit, for all of the nests we saw were in palms or palmettos. We found several of their nests in palms 25 or 30 feet from the ground and generally inaccessible. On May 25, 1923. we found three nests in a grove of palmettos near a house; a man and his boys helped us to climb to these by means of a ladder; and from one of them I collected a nice, fresh set of four eggs. The nests were all neatly woven cups, made entirely of the fibers of the palmetto leaves; they were securely fastened to the under side of the leaf, which generally was green, the supporting fibers being sewn through some strong portion of the leaf; as a result they were well shielded from either rain or sun .
Friedmann’s (1925) experience was similar; all his 16 nests were “sewn on to the under side of the palm or banana leaves”; they were much shallower than nests of the Baltimore oriole, but deeper than those of the orchard oriole. Neither of us saw any nests in Spanish “moss” (Tilandsia); in fact, I cannot remember seeing any lichen in that vicinity; but some of the trees on the edges of the resacas supported more or less Usnea.
Eggs: Bendire (1895) writes:
The number of eggs laid to a set varies from three to five, sets of four being most common, and an egg is deposited daily. They are mostly ovate in shape; the shell is delicate, rather frail, and without luster. The ground color is dull white, occasionally this has a pale huffy and again a faint bluish tint. The eggs are blotched and spotted, principally about the larger end, with irregularly shaped markings ranging from dark seal brown to claret brown, purple, mixed with ochraceous, mouse, and pearl gray, and these rarely run into lines and tracings, so prevalent in the eggs of most of our Orioles. Some eggs are fairly well marked, others only faintly; the lighter shades mentioned largely predominate over the darker ones, and in some the latter are entirely wanting.
The average measurement of ninety-three specimens in the United States National Museum collection is 21.59 by 15.24 millimetres, or 0.85 by 0.60 inch. The largest egg in the series measures 22.86 by 16 millimetres, or O.9O by O.63 inch; the smallest, 18.80 by 15.24 millimetres, or 0.74 by 0.60 inch.
Plumages: I have seen no very young orioles of this species, but Chapman (1923a) describes the sequence of plumages briefly as follows: “Nestlings of both sexes resemble the adult female [based on the subspecies Nelsoni], and the female wears essentially similar colors for the remainder of her life. After the post-juvenal molt the male apparently continues to resemble the female during the first part of the winter or even early spring when it acquires a black throat and lores. This constitutes its first breeding plumage and it is worn until the post-nuptial (second fall) molt at which the bird passes into adult winter dress.” Young males and females, during their first winter, are both somewhat duller in color than are the adult females at that season.
Ridgway (1902) describes the adult winter plumage of the male as similar “to the summer plumage, but the orange or orange-yellow duller, especially on upper parts, where more or less obscured by a tinge or wash of olivaceous; scapulars and inter-scapulars margined terminally with light olive or olive-grayish; tertials more broadly margined with white.”
Behavior: Sennett (1879) noted that these orioles “were continually peering about the thatched roof of our house and arbors adjoining for insects. They were more familiar than any of the other Orioles about the ranch.” And Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1874), state on information received from Captain McCown:
When met with in the woods and far away from the abodes of men, it seemed shy and disposed to conceal itself. Yet a pair of these birds were his constant visitors, morning and evening. They came to the vicinity of his quarters: an unfinished building: at Rioggold Barracks, and at last became so tame and familiar that they would pass from some ebony-trees, that stood near by, to the porch, clinging to the shingles and rafters, frequently in an inverted position, prying into the holes and crevices, apparently in search of spiders and such insects as could be found there. From this occupation they would occasionally desist, to watch his movements. He never could induce them to partake of the food he offered them .
Enemies: Sermett’s hooded oriole is often imposed upon by the dwarf cowbird and the red-eyed cowbird, principally the latter, and the eggs of both species are sometimes found in the same nest. Out of the 16 nests observed by Friedmann (1925) near Brownsville, one held an egg of the dwarf cowbird and two of the oriole, and three contained eggs of the red-eyed cowbird .
Breeding Range: Sennett’s hooded oriole breeds from Southern Texas (Rio Grande City, Port Isabel) south along the Gulf coastal plain to southern Tamaulipas (probably Paso del Haba).
Winter Range: Winters throughout its range south to northern Guerrero (Taxco, Iguala) and Morelos (Cuernavaca).
Migration: The data deal with the species as a whole.
Early dates of spring arrival are: San Luis Potosi: Valles, March 24. Tamaulipas: Rancho Rinconada, March 5. Nuevo Le6n: Linares, March 5. Sonora: Tesia, March 21; Baja California: Santo Domingo, February 28. Texas: Hidalgo and Brownsville, March 12 (median of 9 years in Cameron County, March 15). New Mexico: Carlsbad Cave region, March 24. Arizona: Tucson, March 14 (median of 13 years, March 25). California: Los Angeles County, March 5 (median of 32 years, March 20) ; Santa Barbara, March 14.
Late date of spring departure: Sonora: Guirocoba, May 20.
Early dates of fall arrival are: Sinaloa: Escuinapa, October 24. Guerrero: Taxco, November 1.
Late dates of fall departure are: California: Los Angeles County, November 1 (median of 5 years, September 13). Arizona: Tucson, October 8. New Mexico: Guadalupe Canyon, October 4. Texas: Brownsville, November 12.
Egg date8: Arizona: 22 records, May 22 to Aug. 25; 11 records, June 6 to July 18.
California: 72 records, April 7 to Aug. 12; 36 records, May 9 to June 12.
Baja California: 15 records, May 1 to Aug. 10; 8 records, July 14 to July 25.
Texas: 44 records, April 8 to July 5; 22 records, May 1 to May 29.
Swainson’s Hooded Oriole
ICTERUS CUCULLATUS CUCULLATUS Swainsoii
Similar in its habits to Sennett’s hooded oriole, this race is somewhat darker, more orange, less yellowish in the males, and notably darker in the females.
Swainson’s hooded oriole ranges from western Texas south to Guerrero and Veracruz, and its breeding range extends from western Texas (Boquillas, Del Rio), Chihuahua (Sabinas), Nuevo Le6n (Monterrey, Linares), and Tamaulipas (G6mez Farias); south to San Luis Potosi (probably San Luis Potosi), northern Guerrero (Iguala), and southern Veracruz (Orizaba, Catemaco). Its winter range is uncertain; the northernmost winter specimens are from Morelos (Cuernavaca) and central Veracruz (Mirador); in spring and fall specimens have been taken in western Texas (Marathon, Langtry), Nayarit (Santiago), Michoac~n (Lake Piitzcuaro, Tac~imbaro), central Guerrero (Chilpancingo), and Veracruz (Puerto Mexico).
Arizona Hooded Oriole
ICTERUS CUCULLATUS NELSONI Ridgway
Contributed by ROBERT S. Woods
Despite its shy, quiet ways, probably few birds of the Southwest have impressed themselves upon the average human consciousness more definitely than the Arizona hooded oriole. This is due not only to the eye-arresting coloration of the adult male, but to the fact that it finds its most congenial surroundings among plantings of palms and flowering shrubs, the former furnishing nesting sites and material, and the latter a favorite food. In spring and summer it is a common inhabitant of city parks and gardens, though it manifests none of the boldness and assurance that characterize some of our dooryard birds.
In the United States, the Arizona hooded oriole is a summer visitant to the southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona, and southeastern California. Typically a species of the Lower Sonoran Zone, the hooded oriole is seldom seen among the yuccas and junipers frequented by Scott’s oriole. Previous to the large-scale development of irrigation, it appears to have been confined mainly to woodlands bordering the watercourses of the lower country. Much of its territory is shared by Bullock’s oriole, which sounds its ringing notes from the tops of eucalyptus or cottonwood trees while the hooded oriole makes its more silent way through the shrubbery and branches below.
Concerning the haunts and habits of the hooded oriole in southern Arizona, H. W. Henshaw (1875) said: “It shuns the arid districts, and is found only in the fringes of deciduous trees along the streams. Here it seeks its food among the foliage of the cottonwoods, and flies from thence to the low bushes on the cafion sides, spending much of its time among them, gleaning insects from the branches, or even descending occasionally to the ground. I did not hear the song; the birds, at the time of my acquaintance with them, being busy in providing for their young, and seeming to find their time too fully occupied to devote any to music. Their common notes are a rolling chatter, which somewhat resembles that of our common Baltimore Oriole, but is much weaker and fainter.”
Also referring to conditions of an earlier day, Bendire (1895) wrote: “Within our borders it is more common in southern Arizona than anywhere else, and I found about twenty of its nests here during the spring and summer of 1872. * * * J rarely saw one far away from water at any season of the year. The dense, shady groves of cottonwood and mesquite trees in the creek bottoms appeared to be its favorite haunts. It is a shy, restless creature, nearly always on the move, looking for insects of various kinds and their larvae, including hairless caterpillars, and small grasshoppers.” It may be doubted whether the first statement of the foregoing quotation is still true, as suitable habitats have increased greatly .
Spring: While Dawson (1923) found the hooded oriole beginning to arrive in California late in March, corresponding dates for southern Arizona may be somewhat later, W. E. D. Scott (1885) stating that they arrive about the middle of April. For a time the males are more frequently seen than the females .
Courtship: “During the mating season, beginning about the latter part of April,” says Bendire (1895), “several males may sometimes be seen chasing a female and scolding and fighting each other for the coveted prize.” Little if anything has been published regarding any characteristic courtship practices of this species, but I have seen an adult male execute a series of exaggerated bows as he advanced slowly along a horizontal limb of a tree in which a female was perched. Again, in midsummer, a male in second-year plumage was observed hopping round and round his mate in a tree, singing softly and repeatedly posturing with open bill directed toward the zenith, while the female faced him, also with open bill.
Nesting: For a bird which spends most of its time comparatively close to the ground, the Arizona hooded oriole chooses surprisingly high nesting sites. With one exception hereinafter mentioned, the numerous nests observed by Bendire (1895) and Scott (1885) in Arizona ranged from 12 to 45 feet from the ground .
As in the case of the cactus wren, a species having a somewhat similar geographical range in the United States, the nesting materials used by the hooded orioles seem to differ as between Arizona and California, a difference hardly to he accounted for by the relative availability of the materials. However, whereas the former seems to construct grass nests only on the Pacific slope, the present species uses such materials mainly at points farther east, and seldom in California. The various nest descriptions quoted below plainly bring out this difference.
Bendire (1895) says: “In southern Arizona nidification begins rather late, rarely before May 20, and sometimes later. In southern California, however, it commences fully a month earlier, and a full set of eggs was taken by Mr. Theodore D. Hurd, near Riverside, California, on April 23.” Referring to a nest containing three fresh eggs, found in Arizona on June 5, he continues:
It was suspended from a bunch of mistletoe growing on a limb of a cottonwood tree, about 40 feet from the ground, and was hard to get at. This, like nearly all of the nests found by me, was woven of a species of slender wiry grass growing in moist places, which was used in a green state. It contained a little cottonwood down for lining. Its green color, closely resembling the surrounding foliage, made it very difficult to see. It was securely fastened to several mistletoe twigs among which it was placed. Fully three-fifths of the nests found by me were placed in similar situations; the others were suspended in mesquite (excepting one found in an ash tree), at various heights from 12 to 45 feet from the ground. The majority of these nests were woven of this green wire grass, which seems admirably adapted for this purpose, and a few only were made of dry yucca fibers; the latter were much more easily seen. In some instances this material was also used for the inner lining, mixed with willow down or a little wool, rarely with a few feathers, or a small quantity of horsehair.
While some of the nests were semipensile and slung somewhat like a hammock, so that they rocked like a cradle with every breeze, in the majority some of the surrounding slender twigs among which the nest was placed were incorporated into its walls and sides, securing it almost immovably in position. None of the nests seen by me in any. way resembled those of Bullock’s Oriole, which was also common here. They were always much brighter colored, not nearly so deep, and were constructed of entirely different materials. Neither do the grasswoven nests of the Arizona Hooded Oriole resemble the common type of its near relative found in Texas. I refer to the nests built of tree moss, which are usually located in bunches of the same material. But those of either form of the Hooded Oriole, when built of yucca fibers, might be readily mistaken for each other. Besides the trees already mentioned, Mr. Scott found it breeding in sycamores, and in California it nests in walnut, cypress, gum, and fan palms, the fibers of which, according to Mr. Theo. D. Hurd, are almost exclusively used as nesting material in that locality .
Hurd (1890) published the following interesting notes on the nesting habits of this oriole, as observed by him in that vicinity: “For the rearing of the first brood the nests are usually suspended in overhanging branches of the blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), but it is a noticeable fact that the second nests are more commonly attached to the leaves of the palm tree. Why this is I do not know, unless they want to begin laying as soon as possible, and therefore build where material is most easily obtained. When in palms the nests are fastened directly to the under side of a large leaf, leaving a small opening on one or more often on either side, for the bird to enter.”
Says Bendire (1895): “Two and possibly even three broods are sometimes raised in a season. I found slightly incubated eggs in Arizona on August 25. From three to five eggs are laid to a set; in Arizona usually only three or four; but Mr. Hurd reports taking a set of seven on May 6, 1890. An egg is deposited daily until the set is completed.”
He reports having seen the male carrying nesting materials, and adds: “The nest is well built, it is basket or cup shaped, with a very thick bottom and strong sides. It averages about 4 inches in height externally. The inner cup is oval, about 2% inches deep and 3 by 2 inches wide, and it takes about 4 or 5 days to complete it.”
Henshaw (1875) thus describes the nests observed in Arizona: “I saw quite a number of what I took to be the nests of this species, suspended low down from the branches of the cottonwoods and various deciduous trees; one or two being not more than ten feet from the ground. These were made of grasses, and woven and. interwoven in such a manner as to make a very firm durable nest, and shows that this species is not inferior to its allies in the art of construction.” Scott (1885) says: “Two broods are raised, and not infrequently three, during their stay here, and a new home is built for each brood. The old birds are great workers when building their nests, and the rapidity with which so elaborate a structure is completed is astonishing. Three or four days at most generally suffice to complete the structure.” lie then describes in considerable detail 10 nests in a canyon, presumably near Tucson: All taken from three kinds of trees cottonwood, sycamore, and a kind of ash; and, considering that the location of all were not a mile apart, it would seem that taste or fancy had much to do with producing in the same locality, where the materials used by all of the builders are abundant and easily obtained, structures varying so widely in general appearance, in the materials of which they are built, and in their method of building, as well as in mode of attachment to the tree.
Some of the nests, it will be seen, are as truly pensile as those of Icterue galbula; others are more like those of Icterus spurius; while one at least rests on a stout twig and is hardly to be regarded as a hanging nest at all.
Of the 10 nests, 8 are described as composed mainly of grasses, either coarse or fine, 1 of yucca fibers, and 1 of a combination of these 2 materials. In addition to these, he mentions nests built in clumps of mistletoe in mesquite trees, and also an unusual nesting site at a height of only 8 feet on the trunk of a yucca in the open desert.
Eggs: The eggs are indistinguishable in size and appearance from those of other races of the species, as described under Sennett’s hooded oriole.
Young: Bendire (1895) gives the incubation period as 12 to 14 days. Irene G. Wheelock (1904) says: “Incubation lasts thirteen days, and in this the male takes no part.” Since the nesting sites usually chosen do not readily lend themselves to observation of the interiors of the nests, statistics relative to the development of the young are not plentiful. According to Mrs. Wheelock (1904), “The young Orioles are born naked except for flecks of down on the crown and along the back. They are fed by regurgitation for four or five days. The eyes open on the fourth day, and pinfeathers soon begin to darken the skin. In two weeks the nestlings are fully fledged, looking much like the mother, and are ready for their debut. Nevertheless they are very helpless, and are fed and cared for by both parents for some time after leaving the nest.”
Plumages: The plumages and molts are similar to those of the species elsewhere, described under Sennett’s oriole, to which the reader is referred.
Food: In general, the food of this oriole consists of a combination of insects and the nectar of flowers, but also some fruits, such as berries and cherries. In addition to the fruits mentioned above, hooded orioles are fond of loquats, but in my experience they pay little attention to peaches, grapes, or other later ripening soft fruits. Nectar undoubtedly fills a larger place in their diet than is recognized by some writers. Where suitable flowering plants are present in abundance, the birds will spend much time in diligently probing the blossoms of agaves, aloes, hibiscus, lilies, and other tubular forms. In procuring nectar from large flowers, the favored method is to perch on the stem of the blossom and puncture the base of the tube with the sharp bill. While a certain amount of insect food would naturally be obtained from the flowers, the fact that nectar is the primary object is indicated by their custom of occasionally slitting unopened lily buds, a habit by no means popular with gardeners.
As might be expected from their fondness for nectar, orioles enthusiastically respond to offerings of sugar syrup, of which they will consume relatively large quantities, drinking deeply and often. They appear rather more tolerant of dilution of the syrup than do hummingbirds. An originally saturated solution seems to he as readily taken when diluted to half strength.
Behavior: Except with respect to its nests, this species seems to have received little detailed study. Of its general habits, Mrs. Wheelock (1904) says: “Like the orchard oriole, he haunts the heavy foliage, flitting through the open only en route to a fresh pasture. Restless, shy, ever on the move, searching for caterpillars on the under sides of the leaves chickadee fashion, picking in the crevices for larvae like a nuthatch, and snapping up grasshoppers with a little jump as do young meadowlarks, he is usually to be found within 12 feet of the ground.” While these statements are true as generalizations, the hooded oriole does not hesitate to risk a more exposed situation when necessary in order to explore the flowering stalk of an agave or aloe, and the males sometimes sing from the tops of tall trees.
Their agility on the wing is apparently not such as to encourage them to attempt the capture of flying insects, though the flight is fairly strong and swift. It seems, however, to be used solely as a means of getting from one place to another, and never as a method of expressing exuberance of spirit or expending surplus energy. In going about through the trees and shrubbery, the orioles are likely to climb along the branches with minimum use of the wings. When approached, they lean forward and lower their heads in a characteristic attitude while peering nervously at the intruder.
While preferring well-watered situations, the orioles do not seem greatly interested in the water itself, though they occasionally bathe. The nectar which forms a part of their diet doubtless makes the drinking of water unnecessary. Though not rated as a gregarious species, there seems to be a certain desire for companionship, and in spring before the nesting activities are under way, two of the brilliantly hued males may often be seen feeding at the same flower stalk. The young also remain in rather. close association for some time after attaining self-support. They are not quarrelsome, either among themselves or with other species. In spite of the fact that they so commonly frequent low shrubbery, these birds rarely alight on the ground, though on occasions they may be seen hopping over a lawn, presumably in search of insects.
Voice: The presence of the Arizona hooded oriole is usually first betrayed by a liquid chirp repeated at intervals, or by a chatter like that of Bullock’s oriole, but lighter and softer in tone. Contrasting strongly with the buglelike notes of the latter species is its pleasant but unpretentious warbling song, which is neither loud nor frequent, and is interspersed with the typical chatter or rattle.
Field marks: In flight, the male hooded oriole can most easily be distinguished from the Bullock’s and Scott’s orioles by the apparently solid black of the tail. The body color of this subspecies is deeper yellow than in Scott’s oriole, but less orange than in Bullock’s. In the western tanager, of somewhat similar size and coloration, the tail is nearly even instead of graduated, the wings have yellow patches, and the throat is without black. The entirely yellow crown of the hooded oriole is distinctive, and the bill is more slender than in the others mentioned. Descriptions of coloration are hardly adequate guides to the field identification of the female orioles, hut in the present species the bill is more distinctly decurved and the tail more definitely graduated.
Bendire (1895) says: “The Arizona Hooded Oriole is imposed on to a considerable extent by the Dwarf Cowbird, and I found several nests containing one and two eggs of this parasite with one or two only of the rightful owner.
Enemies: llerbert Friedmann (1929) lists this species among the victims of both the dwarf cowbird (Molothrus ater obseuru.s) and the bronzed cowbird (Tarigavius aeneus aeneus) in Arizona. Its wariness, nonterrestrial habits, and the nature of its nesting sites should render it comparatively safe from most natural enemies.
Fall: Most of the Arizona hooded orioles have disappeared from their summer haunts by the end of August, but a few individuals, especially the immature, remain into September .
Breeding Range: The Arizona hooded oriole breeds from southeastern California (Colorado River Valley), central and southeastern Arizona (Topock, San Carlos, Safford), and southwestern New Mexico (Silver City); south to northeastern Baja California (eastern base of Sierra San Pedro MArtir, lat. 310 N.) and southern Sonora (Guaymas, Agiabampo). Casual in southwestern Utah (St. George, Beaver Dam Wash), where it may breed.
Winter Range: Winters from central Sonora (Ilermosilo) casually to southern Arizona (Tucson); south to southern Sinaloa (Escuinapa, Rio Mazathin).
California Hooded Oriole
ICTERUS CUCULLATUS CALIFORNICUS (Lesson)
Contributed by ROBERT S. WooDs
This race of the hooded oriole has extended its range northward on the Pacific coast in recent years casually to the San Francisco Bay region, but W. L. Dawson (1923) has placed Santa Barbara as the northern limit of its common occurrence. Undoubtedly the extensive ornamental plantings which have been made in southwestern California have greatly increased the amount of country suitable for this bird and have correspondingly increased its potential population.
Like other species, this one occasionally departs markedly from its usual routes and schedules. F. C. Lincoln (1940) reports one individual that was banded at Los Angeles on January 22, 1939, and was found dead near Garden City, Kans., about August 5 of that year.
Spring: In Los Angeles County the hooded orioles are usually first seen during the latter half of March, but in some years their arrival in any given breeding locality may be delayed until after the beginning of April. Dawson (1923) said “[This oriole] begins to arrive m California late in March. I say ‘begins to arrive’ because I think it altogether probable that there are two streams or stocks of migrants, one arriving early and nesting in April and July, the other nesting only once, in late May or early June.”
Courtship: Nothing appears to have been published to indicate that the courtship of this race differs in any way from that of the Arizona bird.
Nesting: Like the Arizona race, this hooded oriole chooses nesting sites high up in trees. Florence Merriam Bailey (1910) says: “In choosing between individual [palm] trees, the taller seem to be given the preference.” In California this oriole has been found nesting, not only in cottonwoods, as in Arizona, but also in walnut, cypress, gum, and fan palms, the fibers of which are used as nesting material.
The California oriole does not, like the more eastern races, construct its nest out of grasses. Bendire (1895) speaking of the Arizona hooded oriole, noted that a full set of eggs, undoubtedly of the California race, was found near Riverdale, Calif., by Theodore D. Hurd on April 23.
A good account of the nesting of the hooded oriole in southwestern California is found in the notes of J. F. Hingworth (1901), who states “it is difficult to find two nests of the Bullock’s Oriole alike in shape or material, as they use almost anything they can find in the way of fiber.” He continues:
The nests * * * on the other hand are very much alike, and I have never found one made of other material than the palm-fiber. The locations, too, are similar, a tree with large leaves being usually selected and a favorite position is under the broad, corrugated leaves of the palm. These form an excellent shelter from both rain and sun. They drill holes through the thick leaves with their sharp, slender beaks and tie the nest to them with palm-fiber. Often the nest is hung between several leaves such as those of the fig tree, when holes are cut and the palm-fibers laced in and out through them, thus drawing the leaves together to form the outside of the nest. The leaves not only aid in the nest structure but also form the best possible concealment.
An average nest is 3.50 inches deep and 2.50 inches wide inside measurements, while the outside is about four inches deep and four across. Nests of both the Bullock’s and Arizona Hooded Orioles are frequently taken possession of by House Finches, sometimes even before the orioles have finished them, but more often after they are deserted.
From an article on “the palm-leaf oriole” by Florence Merriam Bailey (1910) the following excerpts relating to nesting are obtained:
In eight towns and three country places in the general region between Redlands and San Diego in the summer of 1907, I counted forty nests made of palm fibers and hung in fan palms, and twelve others made of palm fiber and hung in other trees. * * * The great variety of palms used for decorative purposes in southern California gives the oriole a wide range of choice in nesting sites, but with one exception, that of a yucca-like palm in Santa Ana, the nests found were in the common native Washington fan palm, or in one too nearly like it to be distinguished by the unbotanical. The wisdom of the choice is easily appreciated for the narrow leaves of the date palm offer no protection from the hot California sun while the wide leaves of the fan palms are natural umbrellas, and among fan palms the short-stemmed varieties with close-set leaves would give little of the breeziness given by this long-stemmed one whose leaves fan reasonably free from each other. * * * By the time I had listed the fifty-two nests made of palm fiber, forty of which were hung in the palm, it seemed that, in southern California at least, nelsoni had won its right to the name of Palm-leaf Oriole.
Dawson (1923) gives the following formal description of the hooded oriole’s nest in California: “Nest: a closely woven basket, or hanging pouch, of fine vegetable fiber, usually composed externally of a single, uniform, selected material, and in California almost invariably the shredded fibers of the Washington Palm, * * * with some inner felting of vegetable down or feathers; lashed to the under side of a palm leaf or of other large protecting leaves.” The nests that I found at Azusa, Calif., were in avocado, eucalyptus, and dracaena (perhaps the “yucca-like palm” mentioned by Mrs. Bailey). In the first two locations, the nests were placed in terminal clusters of leaves, so that they were not at all conspicuous. All these nests were made of what. appeared to be palm fiber, although the nearest fiber-bearing palms were perhaps half a mile distant. Other suitable fibers were scarce, and one summer a specimen of “old man” cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) was almost denuded of its white hairs by the orioles. In some instances, at least, material is gathered by the female while the male waits near by and flies with her to the nesting site.
One noteworthy nesting site was beneath the second-story eaves of my home, where the birds had in some manner wedged one or more fibers into a crack, despite the lack of any perching place except the lower surface of shingles and sheathing. The nest when completed dangled from a single strand, swinging and twisting in the wind, but miraculously remained in position until the young were successfully fledged, shortly after which the empty nest dropped to the ground, the removal of the tension due to the weight of the young having evidently permitted the disengagement of the fiber.
It is unfortunate that we have no information concerning the habits and abundance of this oriole in southwestern California previous to the widespread introduction of the fan palm, Washingtonia fihifera., which is native only to a few restricted localities on the borders of the Colorado Desert. It would be interesting to know whether the species has altered its nesting habits on the Pacific slope, or whether this whole area has been populated by descendants of the birds which shared the original habitat of the palm and which followed its widening.
Eggs: The eggs are indistinguishable in size and appearance from those of other races of the species, as described under Sennett’s hooded oriole.
Young: The young are similar in every way to those of the other races of this species. That they possess some aquatic ability was noted by Frank F. Gander (1927), who reports: “On July 21, 1924, I saw two fledgling Arizona Hooded Orioles leap from their nest in a eucalyptus tree and fall 20 feet into a pond. They at once swam ashore, paddling with their feet and with their wings spread out on the water.”
Plumages: The plumages and molts are similar to those of the species elsewhere, described under Sennett’s hooded oriole, to which the reader is referred.
Food: Near Los Angeles, Illingworth (1901) found that the: Orioles are very beneficial to the horticulturist, although they eat some early fruit such as berries, cherries, etc., but no fruit man will begrudge them these if he thoroughly understands their habits. The chief food of the orioles consists of insects and injurious caterpillars, and I have often watched them while they were searching among the branches for this latter food. They are particularly fond of a small green caterpillar that destroyed the foliage of the prune trees a few years ago. The orioles are often seen in the berry patches but they are usually in search of insects as is proven by the examination of a great number of stomachs .
Voice: Dawson (1923) describes the vocal efforts of this oriole as “exceedingly variable both as to length and quality, now a weak rasping phase, now a succession of sputtering squeaks, half musical and half wooden, and now a wild medley wherein are imbedded notes of a liquid purity.”
Fall: Most of the birds leave their summer haunts by the end of August, but stragglers have been reported in southern California throughout the winter.
Breeding Range: The California hooded oriole breeds from central California (Solano County, Fresno, Clark Mountain) south to northwestern Baja California (Santo Domingo, San Jose); it is casual in southern Nevada (Pahrump, Ash Meadows), where it may breed.
Winter Range: Winters casually, north to southwestern California (Pasadena, Los Angeles); the southern limits of its winter range are unknown.
Casual records: Accidental in Kansas (Garden City) .
San Lucas Hooded Oriole
ICTERUS CUCULLATUS TROCHILOIDES Grinnell
Joseph Grinnell (1927) describes this oriole as “similar in general size to Icterus cucullotus nelsoni Ridgway, of Arizona and southern California, but bill in both sexes longer, more attenuated in both dorsal and lateral views, and more decurved toward tip; color tone of males in summer on bright parts of plumage averaging duller, more yellow, less orange. * * *
Range: The Cape San Lucas district of Lower California. Specimens examined from many localities from San Jos6 del Cabo north to La Paz.” He believed this race to be “altogether resident in the Cape district” and could find no specimens referable to it from the mainland of Mexico.
William Brewster (1902) states that Mr. Frazar “saw only one individual on the Sierra de Ia Laguna, but observed many in the caf~ons at its base. The species was most numerously represented about Triunfo where it frequented trees near water, and began nest building late in June. The first eggs, a set of four, were found at San Jos6 del Rancho on July 14; during the following 10 days, six nests and sets of eggs were obtained.”
Of the nests of the San Lucas hooded oriole Brewster (1902) says: “[Theyl are essentially uniform in size and shape, and in these respects similar to the nest of the Baltimore Oriole, although smaller and decidedly shallower. All are largely composed of a fine, straw-colored, jute-like fiber firmly interwoven, and four contain only this material, but the fifth is lined with horsehair, and the sixth with cotton and a few feathers. One was attached to the under side of a palm-leaf, two to the branches of orange trees, three were in bushes, and one was suspended at the end of a drooping branch of some deciduous tree. They were placed at heights above the ground varying from four to eight feet.”
Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1874) quote the following brief notes from Mr. Xantus: “Nest and two eggs, found May 20, about ten feet from the ground, woven to a small aloe, in a bunch of the Acacia prosopis. Nest and two eggs, found May 22, on a dry tree overhung with hops. Nest and one egg, found May 30, on an acacia, about fifteen feet from the ground. Nest with young, found on an aloe four feet high. * * * Nest and eggs, found on a Yucca angustifolia, on its stem, six feet from the ground. Nest and two eggs, found in a ~onvo1vulus, on a perpendicular rock fifty feet high. Nest and three. eggs, found on a acacia, twenty-five feet high.”
J. S. Rowley tells me that the nests he saw “were sewed to the under side of banana palm fronds.”
The measurements of 40 eggs average 23.0 by 16.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 26.6 by 15.9, 22.5 by 16.9, 22.0 by 16.0, and 22.5 by 15.1 millimeters. The eggs are practically indistinguishable from those of the species elsewhere .
The San Lucas hooded oriole is resident in southern Baja California from San Ignacio, Comondil, and Carmen Island south to Cape San Lucas.