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Colorful birds migrate to Washington

This week’s birds of note are colorful and exciting. Six Baltimore Orioles arrived in Washington on the first of December. They join uncommon Purple Finches that have been observed over the last week in Washington, as well as in Pamlico Plantation near Broad Creek. (This is an irruptive year for the Purple Finch.)
Baltimore Orioles have wintered in Washington in the last few years. Adult males have splendid orange, black, and white plumage, while females and immature birds are shades of golden yellow, gray, and white.

Attract these gorgeously glowing birds to your yard with halved or quartered oranges stuck onto twigs in trees, or on a platform bird feeder. If you offer grape jelly, be sure to put out only small amounts, since they will gorge on it and too much is bad for them. Also be sure to place the jelly in a small-mouthed container, where it can’t get on their plumage. Sticky jelly is impossible for them to clean off their feathers, and when feathers are soiled with jelly, the birds can’t fly, stay dry, or keep warm. It’s better to offer cut oranges or grapes.

I have seen orioles pick open old webworm nests in pecan trees here in Washington, looking for dead larvae from the previous summer. Like so many birds, orioles rely on fat insect larvae and caterpillars during their breeding and traveling times, so here’s another reason to avoid using pesticides in your yard.
A late-migrating ruby-throated hummingbird has been frequenting my yard in Washington for a couple of weeks now, feeding on flowers of “matchstick plant” and purple Mexican sage. On November 30, another hummingbird joined the first — a real surprise this late in the fall.

These two hummingbirds may over-winter here, or they may head further along their migration route to Central America. Some ruby-throated hummingbirds routinely spend the winter on the Outer Banks and even the North Carolina mainland. There is a farmyard down near Swan Quarter, on this side of Lake Mattamuskeet, where dozens of hummingbirds spend the winter and can be seen at numerous nectar feeders maintained by the homeowner.

On Nov. 29, I had a banner morning walking along the Jack’s Creek greenway in Washington, recording 33 bird species, my all-time high for one visit to this wonderful place. Especially notable were the Loggerhead Shrike (which is almost always present there these days – look in the top of one of the small laurel-oak trees), and an Osprey, appearing quite late in the year for our area, so probably a late migrant from somewhere further north.

Other fun and more typical birds on that walk were two Belted Kingfishers, two Great Blue Herons, bluebirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, a downy, a flicker or two, an Eastern Phoebe, and several red-winged blackbirds flying over.

Betsy Kane is a guest columnist for the Washington Daily News and is a Washington resident who enjoys the outdoors.