Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Climate change may have orioles lingering


Q: It's Sept. 2 and I still have two male Baltimore orioles visiting my jelly feeder here in Becket. I said a sad good-bye to a female on Aug. 24, but these guys do not seem to want to leave. At first, I thought it was cool that I was able to enjoy their spectacular color and song a while longer, but now I am worried one of them may be too old or tired to make the long tip to winter warmth. Should I discontinue the jelly to give them a boost?

— Karen, Becket, Mass.

A: There is nothing unusual today about Baltimore orioles being in New England this late in the summer; they are seen here until around mid-October, (with stragglers most often at feeders lasting into December).

Interesting though, is their departure in The Berkshires back in 1900 is listed as "about the last of August," according to "The Birds of Berkshire County, Massachusetts" by Walter Faxon and Ralph Hoffmann (our bird club is named after the latter).

Climate change may well be more the reason than the birds being too old or tired to make the long trip south. South, for these birds during the winter months (non-breeding season) are Florida, the Caribbean, Central America and very northern parts of Columbia and Venezuela.

We more often hear them whistling a strong, rich song from the tree tops upon arrival beginning in early May and continuing through breeding season. And unless attracted to feeders or fruit trees, they are most often content staying high in trees, where they find insects. They are the birds that make the long sock like nests, sometimes seen hanging from a high tree branch over a road. (A sight even more noticeable back when city and town streets were adorned with magnificent elm trees.)

Baltimore orioles keep an eye out for ripe fruits and halved oranges are a good choice when hung from branches or fastened to fence posts or feeding platforms. Jelly in small amounts placed near hummingbird feeders also is suggested, just don't lay down globs that might soil their feathers.

Good news

MassWildlife and MassDOT work together to help monarch butterflies:

On Aug. 24, 2016, state wildlife and transportation officials gathered in Plymouth to announce a grant award and partnership that will help restore populations of monarch butterflies and other native and rare pollinating insects in Massachusetts.

A $21,500 grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will support efforts by MassWildlife and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to increase habitat for pollinating insects by seeding highway median and roadside areas with a mix of milkweed and other native plants for pollinators. This project is part of an ongoing partnership between the two agencies.

MassDOT will identify suitable post-construction seeding locations and MassWildlife will purchase native seed mixes appropriate for monarchs and other pollinators. The seed mix will include nectar- and pollen-bearing plants that bloom during the optimal time for monarch migration and provide food for other pollinating insects. To accommodate bloom times, MassDOT will reduce mowing of seeded areas to once every two to three years. The resulting roadside meadows will be marked with signage to publicize their significance. To increase public awareness about the importance of pollinators, MassWildlife will create a pollinator demonstration plot at its field headquarters on the Wayne F. MacCallum Wildlife Management Area in Westborough."

— From MassWildlife Monthly September 2016 (online monthly information).


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