It’s been a good year for people lucky enough to have orioles come to feeders in their neighborhoods. I put out a special oriole nectar feeder at the same time that I put out the hummingbird feeder. A few orioles visited almost immediately. As many as five orioles were fighting for turns at the nectar feeder for a few days. They always seem extra hungry for something sweet when they first return from their long migration from Central America. Sadly, as in the past, they seemed to loose interest in the nectar after a few days. It was as if they had left the neighborhood. Other folks I’ve spoken to have had lots of orioles literally swarming around their feeders. They include many bright orange-and-black Baltimore orioles and even some of the slightly smaller and dark brick red-and-black orchard orioles that don’t appear in numbers every year. The most popular food item at most feeder sites wasn’t nectar, but grape jelly. I put some cheap grape jelly I had in the refrigerator from last year out in an old peanut butter jar lid on the deck railing. Although I had seen no orioles at the nectar feeder for several days, a duller orange female oriole appeared as soon as the jelly was put out. Soon, a male appeared, too. A little male hummingbird passed up the hummer feeder came to the larger oriole nectar feeder, too.
I was pleased to have the oriole’s spectacular beauty and whistled songs still in the neighborhood! I looked out the window the next morning and noticed that the jelly feeder was dry — as if it had been licked clean. I didn’t think hard, pointy-bird beaks could get it that clean. Then I noticed that the nectar feeder that had been hanging nearby was missing. It was smashed on the ground and empty. I then understood that I had been visited by one or more of the neighborhood raccoons during the night. They licked the jelly feeder clean while they were at it.
I began putting out only as much jelly as I thought the orioles would clean up during a day, so there wouldn’t be much left to tempt the coons at night. The coons kept coming anyway and always had the feeder licked completely dry by morning. I then invested in a swinging metal boom where I could hang a new jelly feeder I had built with a roof to keep rain from washing the jelly away. The boom appeared to be long enough that a coon couldn’t reach the feeder like they did the old nectar feeder. I even slicked it up with silicon to keep them from climbing out to the jelly. Strangely, the jelly began to disappear at an even faster rate. There weren’t more orioles — only that first pair that still visit a few times each day. Careful observation revealed that the orioles were now having to share their jelly with a very gluttonous robin. The orioles generally eat a few dainty bill-fulls and fly away. The robin gobbles up great clumps of jelly several times a day. He even had the nerve to chase away an oriole that came to feed; as if he didn’t have plenty of worms to enjoy on the rain-saturated ground. Then a red-bellied woodpecker came to visit. He’s been back for some jelly dessert every day after snacking on a few peanuts. A downy woodpecker, a catbird and several house finches joined the jelly club, as well. The robin is still the biggest consumer, but I wonder who else might drop by to satisfy their sweet tooth, or I guess it should be sweet bill. It seems I have the coons baffled for the time being, but I have learned not to underestimate a raccoon’s resourcefulness when they know there’s something they want almost within reach. They never give up! I’m already trying to figure out how I can make that new swinging boom more difficult for them to negotiate.
Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.