The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) will conduct an annual Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey February 17-20 in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count. The state natural resources agency is interested in the status and distribution of these colorful songbirds that have begun wintering in the Palmetto State.

Survey participants count and record the largest number of Baltimore orioles they can see at one time, on one, two, three or all four days of the survey period. You can participate in the survey by either requesting an SCDNR survey form, or if you are a Great Backyard Bird Count participant, you can e-mail a copy of your checklist submission to SCDNR. For more information, contact Lex Glover at [email protected] or call 803-603-6461.

For more information on the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit gbbc.birdcount.org/.

Baltimore orioles usually winter in South and Central America, and historically it was unusual to see one in South Carolina during the winter. However, during the last few decades, they have been wintering along the East Coast and Southeast in greater abundance. Last year’s Great Backyard Bird Count results had sightings ranging from Maine to Florida and west to Louisiana. There was also a report from California, and two orioles were reported from Nova Scotia. South Carolina Winter Baltimore Oriole Survey data combined with the Great Backyard Bird Count data had South Carolina with the second highest number of reports (21 percent) and the highest number of orioles tallied (39 percent). South Carolina had orioles as far inland as Greenville and along the coastal zone from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island.

Though SCDNR is not sure why these birds have begun overwintering in the state, they are responding well to the popularity of backyard bird feeding. Orioles by nature have a “sweet tooth” and will eat nectar from flowers and wild fruits. Their favorite bird-feeding food by far seems to be grape jelly. Orange halves can be used to attract the orioles into your yard, but grape jelly will encourage them to return. Other items they will eat are suet products (homemade, cakes, bark butter, logs, etc.), sugar water (they will drink from hummingbird or oriole nectar feeders), seed mixes (seem to prefer nut and fruit mixes), sliced grapes, mealworms (live or freeze-dried), sweet cornbread and pound cake.

During the winters from 2009-2015, SCDNR trapped and banded Baltimore orioles that frequented feeders around the state. SCDNR trapped a total of 1,148 birds at 41 sites; banding 990 and recapturing 158, representing 142 individuals. But the most exciting find was when one of the orioles banded in Myrtle Beach on March 8, 2011, was recovered on Sept. 23, 2015, in British Columbia. This is at the extreme western edge of Baltimore orioles’ known breeding range.

SCDNR has stopped the banding efforts for now but wishes to continue monitoring these birds. The survey will enable scientists to learn distribution and abundance of Baltimore orioles wintering in South Carolina. Information from the survey and Great Backyard Bird Count can provide a “big picture” about what is happening to Baltimore oriole populations. SCDNR appreciates the public’s support and efforts with helping collect the valuable information in this survey.