Babies in a Bag

by Michelle Ulrich | Mar 29, 2021 | 0 comments

Male Baltimore Oriole perched in a cherry tree looking for bugs in the blossoms. Rosetta McClain Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo © Paulreevesphotography |

One sunny autumn day, my dad was trimming the old elm tree in our backyard when he suddenly stopped and said, “Look what I found!” He cut it down and showed us something that looked like a woven bag made from dried grasses and vines. We peered into its shadowy interior.
“It’s an oriole’s nest,” Dad explained. We remembered the orange songbirds Mom had pointed out that summer. We had figured they must have a nest nearby, but we hadn’t been able to see it high up in the old elm.

Imagine living inside a little bag like that way up in a tree, I thought.

Baltimore Oriole nest
Baltimore Oriole Nest. Photo © Daniel Logan/

God gave orioles a unique way of building a home for their babies. Before the mother oriole lays her eggs, she weaves a hanging nest that is shaped much like a grocery bag. She suspends this nest in a tall tree, at the end of a drooping branch. There it can sway in the wind. Some orioles have hung their nests ninety feet in the air. That is as high as a nine-story building!

It takes the mother oriole about a week to weave the nest. While she is working, the father oriole may bring her pieces of grass, bark, horsehair, twine, or fish line to use in her work.

When she is finished weaving, the mother oriole lines the inside with soft feathers to help keep her eggs safe and warm. She usually lays about four light-gray blotchy eggs. She sits on them to keep them warm until they hatch, about fourteen days later.

When the babies hatch, they are tiny and helpless. Their eyes are closed. They have only a few teeny-tiny white feathers, called down.

The mother and father oriole work together to feed their new babies. They bring them caterpillars, bugs, fruit, and berries. The babies do not leave the nest for the first two weeks, so their parents must work tirelessly to bring them food.

The babies grow rapidly those first two weeks. Their eyes open, and they grow bigger brownish feathers. Then they are ready to learn to fly!

Orioles travel to a warmer place for the winter. But when summer returns, the orioles will be back! The mother will build a new nest, often in the very same tree. Sometimes she will even weave pieces from last year’s nest into her new nest. She will lay more eggs, and the mother and father will raise more baby ori-oles.

Baltimore Orioles are beautiful birds. The male is vivid orange with a black head and wings. The female looks similar, although she is not as brightly colored.

If you live in Central or Eastern United States, you can see orioles, too. If you see them, invite them to stay by feeding them. Cut oranges in half and put them outside, or put sugar water in a nectar feeder. Orioles also like peanut butter and grape jelly. Who knows? Maybe they will stay and build a bag-shaped nest in a tall tree in your backyard!

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