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Walter Scott's Outdoors: Baltimore orioles love grape jelly

Keeping a steady supply of jelly out to attract orioles can be problematic even when it is readily available.

Columnist Walter Scott

In the great scope of things, a shortage of grape jelly does not rank very high as one of the world’s problems. It is not as serious as a shortage of baby formula or toilet paper but is annoying when a person is accustomed to being able to buy it any time one desired.

The shortage of grape jelly is caused by an increased number of people feeding orioles. For some reason, the beautiful little black and orange birds love grape jelly.

I am not sure what they use as a substitute when people are not feeding them as grape jelly does not grow in the wild. They must require a high-sugar diet to maintain their level of energy from the amount of jelly they eat.

They also eat insects and ripe fruit, but with no ripe fruit available at this time of year, they seem to live off jelly.

Several other bird species as well as certain animals also will raid the jelly if they can. It must be high enough off the ground to keep out dogs and away from horses, as both dogs and horses enjoy a dish of jelly.


Raccoons will also raid the jelly. I have found it necessary to keep Jag, the terrier, out where he can keep track during the night.

Around the first of May, the song of the male orioles can be heard from quite a distance. It is at this time a person needs to put out the jelly to attract them and encourage them to nest in the immediate area.

Their song, to me, sounds like spring. The brightly colored birds are also fascinating to watch as they build their unique sock-like nests. They usually weave their nests from long strands of grass.

One year, an oriole pair made their nest from plastic strands they found caught on rose bushes from big round bale net wrap. I think that pair had the most durable nest in the neighborhood. They will not use the same nest the next year, which is a shame since this was such a well-constructed structure.

We try to provide habitat for other birds such as bluebird houses, martin condo, wood duck nesting boxes, and a screech owl box. These birds are attracted to nesting boxes rather than a food source. They are independent enough to find their own food, which is both helpful and appreciated.

Bluebirds and purple martins eat large amounts of insects in the yard and the owls keep the rodent population under control. Wood ducks eat mostly vegetation but do also eat a fair number of insects.

The main reason we try to attract certain birds is for our viewing and listening enjoyment.

As close as we can tell, we currently have six pairs of Baltimore orioles freeloading off us. In the early morning, it is enjoyable to watch as they flit about, fighting over the jelly dish and listen to them sing when they have had their fill.


They will soon start building their nests and a whole new collection of young birds will start feeding on free jelly. That is when we really begin to feel the pinch of the grape jelly shortage.

To my wife and I, the hassle of keeping the birds in jelly is well worth the effort when we watch them fly about the yard and listen to their music.


Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Drakesville, Iowa.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Drakesville, Iowa.
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