What Do Orioles Eat?

what do orioles eat

Are you trying to attract orioles to your backyard? One of the best ways to get the birds flocking is by offering them food they eat in the wild. But what do orioles eat?

Orioles are omnivores that eat both plants and animals. An oriole’s diet is made up of mainly insects, berries, fruits, and nectar. The volume of plant or animals matter will vary depending on the oriole species and the season. Orioles will migrate long distances to ensure they have a rich source of these foods all year round.

You’ll see those orioles have quite a large range of foods they eat, but perhaps you want to know their preferences. This guide will take you through everything you want to know about the orioles’ diet. We’ll discuss what they eat in the wild, at feeders, and some of their feeding behaviors too.

Let’s jump in.

What do orioles eat in the wild?

1. Insects

A large part of the orioles’ diet is insects. They will normally up their insect intake during nesting season, but they consume them all year round.

Orioles eat insects as a rich source of protein and water in their diet. Insects are an important part of the oriole diet when they are feeding chicks or bulking in preparation for their migration journey. Other foods that oriole eat such as fruit or nectar are low in protein.

Some common insects that orioles eat are:

  • Grasshoppers
  • Moths
  • Beetles
  • Bees
  • Crickets
  • Spiders
  • Wasps
  • Caterpillars

Orioles will go foraging in trees and bushes to locate the best insects. If they have young they will eat then regurgitate them in the nest for the chicks to consume.

Migrating orioles find a good source of insects in North America during the summer. Supplies are high and competition isn’t as fierce as it is in the tropical areas.

Insects are dormant in North America in the winter due to the cold weather. Orioles can struggle to get a good supply. So they will follow the food and migrate south to warmer climates where bugs are plentiful.

Mealworms can be offered at your feeder to help entice the orioles to visit.

2. Fruits & Berries

Fruit is another staple in the oriole diet. Those little orange birds go crazy for sweet things. They enjoy many parts of a plant including the fruit, blossoms, and berries. The blossoms are only available for a short time in the year, but the orioles really enjoy them.

The fruit that grows on trees and plants is another favorite of the orioles. Fruit provides orioles with a rich source of energy, nutrients, fiber, and water.

Baltimore Orioles have a special feeding technique known as ‘gaping’ they use when eating fruit. First, this involves them piercing the fruit with their mouth closed. They then open their mouth to create a gap in the fruit. This allow them to use their tongues to brush and scoop the flesh out of the fruit.

Some common fruits and blossoms that orioles eat include:

  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Crab apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Mulberries
  • Blackberry
  • Figs

When in the North America Orioles are much more attracted to ripe, dark-colored fruits and will choose them over light green or yellow colored fruits. Although they will eat citrus fruits which are plentiful in the tropical areas they live for half the year.

Offering fruit feeders is a great way to attract orioles to your yard. Oranges are always a hit with them, but it’s best to cut them into slices or halves.

3. Nectar

Nectar is another sweet food source for orioles. Yet they can’t hover over flowers like their nectar-eating counterparts the hummingbird. That means the oriole has to have a sturdy stem or nearby perch to gather the nectar from the plants.

Nectar-producing plants are plentiful in the American summer seasons. This means they always have a source of nectar from the flowers in bloom.

The flowers intentionally produce nectar to attract the orioles, as they, in turn, help the process of cross-pollination. The flower attracts the orioles with sweet scents and large, bright petals.

Orioles are particularly attracted to orange colored flowers including:

  • Sunflowers
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Trumpet Honeysuckle
  • Trumpet Vine
  • Torch Lily

Orioles can also find a good source of insects and caterpillars when they are foraging for nectar. This is because butterflies often lay their eggs on these plants as hosts.

4. Plants

Orioles aren’t big on eating plants, however, there are parts that they do like to eat as part of their diet.

Orioles will often opt for the soft, tender, and sweet parts of the plants such as the buds. These provide the orioles with a great source of fiber and nutrients to stay healthy.

Orioles aren’t attracted to most vegetables, yet, peas are a different story. Peas are a favorite of orioles. They’ll eat them fresh, frozen, or dried. So if you have a pea plant that’s getting picked clean, then the orioles are most likely to be the culprits.

5. Small reptiles & Birds

As protein is such a large part of the oriole’s diet, they don’t only get this from insects. Orioles have also been known to eat small reptiles and birds.

The thing to remember is that these are opportunistic meals for an oriole. That means they are not regular predators of these animals but will eat them if given the chance.

The types of animals that orioles will eat are small lizards and hummingbirds. For the most part, orioles and hummingbirds get along. However, they can compete for food sources and if it’s scarce then the orioles can turn violent. That’s why you’d rarely see an oriole eating a lizard or hummingbird.

What do orioles eat at Feeders?

6. Jelly

One food that oriole have access to at feeders but not in the wild is jelly. Orioles go crazy for this stuff. It’s sweet and crammed full of the fruity tastes that orioles love. It will also provide them with lots of energy they need for breeding season and a long migration.

Smooth grape jelly is a particular oriole favorite. This isn’t surprising as they have a preference for dark berries.

Yet you can use other jelly flavors or marmalade if you don’t have any grape to hand. You can use any brand as long as it’s made with real sugar. Artificial sugar can be harmful to orioles.

Jelly can be offered in small dishes, preferably with a perch for the oriole to rest on. You can buy a specialist oriole feeder with jelly trays to attract orioles to your yard (We love this one).

7. Sugar Water

Orioles can eat a homemade sugar water solution. It’s a simple mixture made from only sugar and water, in a ratio that mimics flower nectar.

This is a great way to attract orioles if you are unable to plant nectar-producing flowers in your yard.

It’s just like the nectar you can offer to attract hummingbirds. You can make your own at home using our very own Birds and Wild sugar water recipe. Or you can buy a premade mixture if you want a more convenient option (this is a popular one).

You can use a hummingbird feeder to offer this nectar to orioles, however, it’s recommended you use an oriole feeder (this is our top pick). These feeders make it much easier for orioles to eat as they have larger perches and wider feeding ports for their beaks. Plus the orange color will attract the orioles rather than the hummingbirds.

Just be mindful that offering sugar water at your feeders can attract a lot of other nectar-loving animals to your yard.

8. Fats

Fats are an essential part of the orioles’ diet as they help provide them with a source of energy for migration. Healthy fats you can offer orioles at your bird feeders are suet and peanut butter.

Orioles love peanuts, but they don’t naturally eat them in the wild as they are unable to break through the hard shells. So de-shelled peanuts offered up at your feeder are an excellent source of fat for the orioles.

Suet is a great fat source for orioles, especially through the breeding season when they are working extra hard to find food. The fats provide lots of energy even in small amounts. This makes it much more appealing to a busy oriole who has lots of chicks to feed.

Flavored suet can be offered and oriole seems to enjoy suets with peanut and fruit bits added as they are much sweeter.

Oriole Diet by species

Oriole SpeciesInsectsFruit & Nectar
Baltimore Orioles50%50%
Bullocks Orioles60%40%
Orchard Oriole90%10%
Scott’s Oriole60%40%
Hooded Oriole70%30%

Related questions

Do Orioles eat seeds?

Orioles are not typical seed-eating birds. You won’t be able to attract orioles to your yard by offering them seeds in your bird feeder. You’ll have much more success offering fruit, jelly, nectar, or mealworms.

That being said orioles can occasionally eat seeds. Usually, this will be accidental seed-eating whilst consuming other foods.

Sunflowers seeds are likely to be eaten by orioles. This is due to sunflowers being a flower they are attracted to for nectar, and they will most likely eat some seeds along with the nectar.

Orioles will also consume some seeds from inside the fruit as they feed on them. Seeds can also be offered inside any suet offered to orioles in your yard.

What do orioles eat in winter?

In North America, the food sources that orioles rely on are much harder to come by. Due to seasonal availability and cold weather, there are very few insects, flowers, or fruit.

This lack of food supply makes it hard for orioles to survive the winter seasons. To avoid this orioles will migrate south to warmer climates such as the southern states as well as Central and South America. These areas remain warm with the plenty supply of insects fruit and flowers.

Even orioles that stay in Central America all year round have a constant food supply. Winter months in these areas bring wet, rather than freezing weather conditions.

Although some orioles do manage to overwinter in more northern states. If you spot an oriole overwintering in your yard be sure to offer them a fresh supply of fruit, nectar, mealworms, suet, and fresh water.

Final thoughts

Orioles are omnivores that eat a lot of insects, fruit, and nectar as part of their diet. They need both protein and sugars to help keep them healthy. These nutrients also give them enough energy for migrating thousands of miles.

Orioles will find these food supplies in the summer season of the Americas. To stay perpetually in summer the orioles will migrate between locations to always have a rich food supply.

You can offer these foods at your feeder to attract orioles to visit your yard in the spring and summer months. Remember orioles don’t eat at traditional seed feeders. Using a specialized oriole fruit, jelly, and nectar feeder is recommended.

Orioles are quite simple in their tastes, but get it right and they’ll be flocking to your yard in no time.

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