Foam Lake Birding No. 40

No. 40
This week I will be writing about a family of birds that I have written about before – the blackbirds. There is one big difference, however. The birds that I will be writing about this week are predominantly orange. They are the orioles (named after a similar looking, but unrelated European bird). Because orioles and their cousins, the meadow larks, do not really look like blackbirds, birders usually call them by the Anglicized form of their Latin name – the Icterids. As I have mentioned previously, I do not like to use scientific names, but this is one that I feel is somewhat necessary.
This week’s featured bird is the Altimira Oriole. In Spanish, the word, Altimira, means “look up”. This oriole is so named because of its habit of sitting high up in trees. It is a common and permanent resident of the very southern part of Texas. Like other orioles it has a sweet tooth that attracts them to feeders where fresh fruit and grape jelly are provided.
The Altimira Oriole looks much like the common Baltimore Oriole back home. It is basically orange with black trim and white wing bars. There are noticeable differences though. The Altimira is much larger (robin-sized) as compared to the Baltimore which is about halfway between a sparrow and robin in size. The Altimira’s head is orange with a black bib, whereas the Baltimore’s head is all black. The only oriole it could be confused with down here is the nearly identical, Baltimore-sized, Hooded Oriole. The only obvious visual difference is the pattern of the wing bars. The Altimira has an orange shoulder patch; the Hooded does not. Males and females are different.
Spanish moss grows naturally around here and is a favourite hangout for the Altimira Oriole. This moss is whitish gray in colour and grows in trees much like mistletoe, except that mistletoe is a parasite and Spanish moss is not. Spanish moss is not Spanish nor is it a moss; it is a native of tropical America and related to the pineapple, and is distributed widely to flower shops in Canada and elsewhere as ground cover for potted plants. A forest of Spanish moss looks as if the area had been flooded and after the waters receded, a lot of dried out pond weed was left hanging from the trees. The Altimira Oriole builds its nest out of Spanish moss in trees among the Spanish moss, thus making it extremely difficult to find. I am sure the orioles prefer it this way. The nest looks like a two foot long grey sock with a softball in the bottom of it.
There is one more oriole that is unique to the Valley, the Audubon’s Oriole. In addition, there are four transients that come here every fall and spring in their migration to and from the tropics respectively. I hope to see some of these orioles before we head for home. If not, I should see the Baltimore at home.