The Suitcase Lady


May 23, 2017, 9:27 pm

We went through 28 oranges last week. My husband and I have not turned orange and we are not loaded with vitamin C. All the oranges were for our guests, more orioles than we have ever seen in our 21 years of country living.

Our brilliant visitors, scientific name Icterus galbula, are falling out of the sky. Emily Dickinson correctly called the male oriole “the meteor of birds”.

Orioles consume orange halves in record time. They also love grape jelly and some even hop into the plastic container we put it in. The hummingbird feeder is also visited. We’ve counted as many as twelve orioles at a time enjoying our offerings. And, like cardinals, they arrive early and stay late.

First documented by Linnaeus in 1758, Baltimore Orioles are found in the eastern and central parts of America in summer. Winters are spent in Florida and points south to northern South America.

The birds’ vibrant orange and black colors caused them to be named for Lord Baltimore whose family crest was orange and black. Appropriately, they are the state bird of Maryland.

Orioles are omnivores and enjoy a good meal of caterpillars as well as soft fruits and nectar. When feasting on fruit, they stab the fruit with  beaks closed. Then they open their mouths, creating a cup for the fruit juices which they drink with their tongues.

Orioles’ nests are intricately woven and hung from branches making the nest less vulnerable to predators. They prefer deciduous to coniferous trees for nesting. (Sadly for us, as we live beside a pine grove.) The female can take up to fifteen days to construct her sock-shaped nest. She lays between four to six eggs and incubates them twelve to fourteen days. Dad helps feed the nestlings. Baltimore orioles lay only one brood per season.

A poignant thought occurred to me as I was watching these beautiful, charismatic birds…..what if orioles lacked their flaming orange color but were identical in every other physical trait and behavior? Would so many of us be providing daily banquets of costly oranges?

We may tell our children that looks don’t matter, it’s what’s inside that counts, but I fear we’re lying. Our species does reward beauty.

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