‘They ate the whole bag:’ A variety of birds came to call when I took out oranges

“I have to pick more oranges today,” I informed my wife last Friday.

“You mean the birds ate $8 worth of oranges in just five days?”

“Yeah, with over 20 Western Tanagers, about 10 Bullock’s Orioles and a few more helping themselves, they ate the whole bag.”

We bought another bag of oranges, took out two halves and they were gone within an hour. With most of the sweetness gone, fights broke out between the male tanagers as they chased the orioles and the female tanagers before fighting each other.

I hadn’t planned to feed the tanagers during their migration as they typically migrate through SE Idaho in mid-May. But they were about 10 days late, and their migration coincided with Memorial weekend storms. I had put out the oranges to attract the orioles and a few early hummingbirds, which usually stay and nest in my garden, but the more aggressive male tanagers forced them to feed at the hummingbird feeders.

“Normal” is not normal for this year. I rarely have more than two tanagers showing up at my home west of Rexburg and I usually have to go to the Kilgore area north of St. Anthony to watch their migration. The feeding habits of some birds are also strange this spring. I have never seen black-capped cardinals and house finches eating oranges. They usually feed on seeds, but this year I have pictures of both species feeding on the sweet offerings.

Two male tanagers decide they will debate who gets first dibbs on a newly hooked orange. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

Western tanagers will migrate to nearby mountains and high deserts to nest during the summer, while Bullocks orioles are more of a plains nesting type. Orioles weave hanging nests in trees with thick foliage, which is only visible after the leaves have fallen. But they will often visit your hummingbird feeders while raising their young near my garden.

By mid-June, I will stop bringing the oranges out to entice the birds to switch to natural sweet foods and insects. Orioles feed on the flowers of flowering trees like flowering crabapples and also feed on ants attracted to sweets.

I received several comments and photos of birds showing signs of eye infections and other illnesses and were asked if it was avian flu. It’s probably not bird flu. Several diseases are associated with bird feeders due to the concentration of birds.

About every two to three weeks, bird feeders should be washed with soap and water, then soaked in water with a 10% solution of household bleach added. One part Clorox mixed with nine parts water will help protect birds from most common diseases found in birds in the area.

Part of the problem may be excess or unwanted food spilled on the floor while the birds are feeding. Cheap bird food that contains a lot of red millet usually ends up on the ground, becomes damp and moldy, causing disease to spread. Songbirds should not be fed on platforms as the birds will mix it with their droppings, which usually carry all sorts of nasty diseases. It is also recommended that all food be stored away from the rain to keep it fresh and clean.

Enjoy the beautiful colors of fruit-eating birds while they are still around and let me know if you see any strange birds on your travels. Now is the time for many strange birds to show up as they get caught up in these wild storms that come every spring.

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