Sunday, December 8, 2019

Bird feeder orange halves--Give them a try!

I had no idea. It was May 2013. I was visiting Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. At refuge headquarters the staff had impaled cut orange halves on the tree branches to make impromptu fruit bird feeders. Migrant tanagers had arrived overnight and dozens were eating those oranges! Boy, did I get some great photos that day!

Photo of a Western Tanager feeding on an orange
Western Tanager eating an orange.
Photo by Greg Gillson

What kinds of wild birds will eat fresh oranges?


Birds that eat fruit and berries as part of their diet will likely eat oranges. There are many birds that migrate to the tropics in winter that are especially known for their affinity to fruit, including oranges.

The first birds named as eating oranges are orioles. Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles in the East and Bullock's Orioles and Hooded Orioles in the West eat oranges. There are other less widespread (in the US) oriole species from southern California to Florida that will eat oranges.

Scarlet Tanagers in the East and Western Tanagers in the West eat oranges. I haven't directly found any references to Hepatic Tanagers or Summer Tanagers eating oranges, but suspect they would.

The orioles and tanagers may be more likely to eat fruit, such as oranges, at your feeder in spring when they first arrive. When feeding young they will likely switch to a strictly insect diet. Later in summer and early fall they (and the new young birds) will return to eating oranges and other fruits and berries at your feeder again.

Northern Mockingbirds are noted to eat oranges.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers seem especially attracted to oranges among the woodpeckers. Some other woodpeckers may eat oranges, too.

Gray Catbirds, American Robins, Wood Thrushes and other thrushes and bluebirds are fruit eaters and would likely be attracted to oranges.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the East are known to eat oranges. If they do, then the Black-headed Grosbeaks in the West likely do too.

Brown Thrashers eat oranges. No doubt many of the other thrashers would too. They are otherwise quite hard to attract to a backyard feeder.

Certainly omnivores like jays and crows and European Starlings would eat oranges, wouldn't they? You probably wouldn't want these larger and more aggressive birds at your feeder, though.

Will birds eat oranges in winter?


Yes indeed! Many of the birds that eat oranges in summer in North America migrate to the tropics for the winter. However, many of those other birds listed above do not migrate. Bluebirds, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, robins, and other birds may eat oranges in winter. You may be surprised at what other birds may show up for such a treat.

The brightly colored oranges show up well at your winter feeder. If any birds are interested, they'll be able to spot those oranges at quite a distance.

By the end of December most birds have settled into their winter homes. They will likely stay in place until early April. This means that you'll have more time in winter for the birds to find and sample your oranges. You can experiment with orange halves, smaller slices, or oranges chopped up even smaller.



Photo of a Western Tanager at an orange and jelly oriole feeder
Western Tanager eats at an orange-and-jelly oriole feeder.
Photo by Greg Gillson

How do you feed birds oranges?


  1. The simplest way to feed oranges to birds is simply cut them in half (across the sections) and place them on your platform-type bird feeder. Fruit-eating birds passing by will see them easily. However, larger birds, like crows, or other animals may steal the food away. So you may want to secure the orange, as follows....
  2. Impale an orange-half on a nail or tree branch in a place where birds can find them but other pests may have a hard time reaching them. [See the opening photograph] Fruit eating birds are used to eating fruit in trees (where else?) and may be reticent to join in with the rowdy seed eaters at your feeder.
  3. A few orange halves or sections may be placed together in a suet feeder (no suet). You can discourage larger birds and starlings from getting at your oranges if you add a longer chain to the suet feeder. When heavier birds (or animals) get on a suet feeder with a longer chain, the feeder tends to swing wildly. Starlings have weaker feet and have difficulty eating from such a suet feeder and frequently fall off. Smaller birds don't cause the same swinging motion.
  4. You may decide to go all-in on feeding oranges by purchasing a special oriole feeder. Good for you! There are many types of oriole feeders for sale on Amazon. Check out all the designs, including a couple that feature nectar, spikes for oranges, and fruit or jelly cups all in one feeder! (Amazon oriole feeders) Yes, orioles drink nectar too (same sugar formula as for hummingbirds)! They just need a special access hole that is larger, without letting in bees.
  5. Finally, you can create a homemade bird feeder out of a hollowed-out rind of an orange. The orange half acts as a bowl. You can poke a few holes around the rim of the orange bowl and "sew" yarn or twine through them to make a hanging bird feeder made from the orange. Inside you can add cut up pieces of fruit or jelly, including pieces of orange. You can put seed in your homemade orange bird feeder, but fruit eaters don't usually eat seeds and seed eaters may take over. This type of feeder will only last a few days but may be a fun project to do with the kids.



Fruit--not just oranges


It turns out that orioles may actually be attracted to grape jelly even more than oranges! Welches seems to be the preferred brand according to birding forums I read preparing this article. And the squeeze bottle was said to be easier to use than a jar that has to be spooned out. Many oriole feeders have both spikes to impale orange halves and cups for jelly. Look for feeders that come with sturdy glass cups that can be washed rather than flimsy plastic cups.

Apple slices, grapes, chopped raisins, bananas. Any over-ripe fruit can go on your platform bird feeder. You can make a temporary tray feeder for just these special occasions.

It's amazing how much fruit is wasted in late summer and fall. All the fruit comes on at once and you can't eat it all before it starts getting soft spots. Or you buy it at the market and it is too green. You set it on your counter to ripen and it goes soft on the bottom before it ripens. Don't get mad. Don't throw it out. You now have free bird food! Try these kitchen scraps as bird food!

Don't put out too much at once though. You don't want to attract pests. And you don't want to feed birds moldy oranges or other fruit. If it goes bad on your feeder get rid of it, as we'll discuss next.

Keep it clean!


More than perhaps other types of bird food, fruit can quickly spoil and go bad. That juicy, sugary orange will attract ants and start molding within a few days.

Even the plastic oriole feeders are difficult to clean of any mold that forms. One person said he didn't have any problem cleaning his--he used a pressure washer! This is just to say that there is more work involved in keeping orange feeders clean, pretty, and sanitary. If you can't take the time, perhaps it is best not to feed fruit to birds.

Feeding oranges to birds is almost certain to attract insects, yellow jackets, and ants. It is possible that mice and rats will find them. Raccoons, opossums, and skunks may raid your feeder for fruit or seeds. Thus, it is essential to throw out any uneaten or rotten fruit and keep your feeder clean. This is really the responsibility with feeding anything to birds, even just seeds--keep your yard clean and sanitary for your bids and for yourself.



Do you have any experience feeding oranges or other fruit to birds? Tell us about your experiences in the comments, please!

You may also like: Do squirrels scare birds away from feeders?



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