For the Birds Radio Program: Orioles and Hummingbirds

Original Air Date: May 2, 1994

How do you attract orioles and hummingbirds to your yard? (3:29) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


May is the finest, most beautiful, and most exciting month of the year, at least for me. The weather near Lake Superior can be cold, wet, and dreary, and trees may hold off leafing out till Memorial Day, but migrating birds coursing through make up for everything else.

The most beautiful migrants seem to be those that herald from the tropics. A Scarlet Tanager’s plumage naturally gleams more brightly than a cardinal’s, because the tanager has been kissed by the tropical sun. That souther glow infuses the Baltimore Oriole and Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s feathers as well.

A bare, drab spring tree comes to brilliant life when one of these tropical beauties alights in its branches. To ensure that plenty of orioles and hummers brighten May days, Northlanders are getting ready to set out feeders. This and next week are the time to get crackin’. Inexpensive hummingbird feeders are available at garden and hardware stores, bird feeding stores, and even discount department stores. Don’t use honey–it gives hummingbirds fungus diseases. Use a quarter-cup of sugar to one cup of boiling water. Food coloring is completely unnecessary since all decent hummingbird feeders have bright red parts. Keep your feeders clean and change the water often. During cool springs, you need only replace the water every four or five days, but in the heat of mid-summer, it’s best to change it every day or two. Sugar water ferments, and it can cause serious liver damage if not fresh.

Orioles come to sugar water as well, though few of ours learn to balance on hummingbird feeders. Some stores carry sugar water feeders with perches sized for oriole feet. You can also set out sugar water—again, a quarter cup of sugar to a cup of water—in plastic cereal bowls. Orange-colored bowls work best, since orioles are attracted to the color orange.

The first orioles of spring are especially attracted to real oranges, usually cut in half and stuck on dowels or hung with string or wire onto a tree branch. I place orange halves on my platform feeder, too. Orioles are the main guests, but once in a while a catbird or warbler drops in for a snack.

This is also the time to set out nesting materials for birds. You can put short lengths of binder twine, chunks of cotton quilt batting or cotton balls, or even handfuls of dog fur from brushing your favorite dog, in a clean suet feeder. Several magazines and catalogs have recently suggested using dryer lint, but that’s a horrible idea. Fresh dryer lint feels soft and fluffy, but once it gets wet, it shrinks into a brittle cake which disintegrates under the least pressure. No, drying lint is one thing that is definitely not for the birds.