One still, sunny day during our first April here, I was bending down to plant a honeysuckle when someone wolf-whistled loudly. Now, I was 22 years younger then, but still not exactly in the first flush of youth. In any case, the sound came from somewhere high up. It was hard to imagine anyone climbing a 20 metre-high tree to spy on me in la France profonde.
The secret whistler also seemed to be the origin of a variety of other virtuoso songs, some of which sounded almost electronically generated. They sang at any time of day but were particularly vocal in the early morning, especially after rain or in humid weather.
It took a while to penetrate the mystery, until I saw flashes of yellow and black flitting between treetops, calling as they went. These were Golden orioles (loriots in French). I had vaguely heard of them but had never seen or heard one before, since they are quite rare in the UK.
Shy summer visitors
These summer visitors leave their winter quarters in central and Southern Africa to breed in Europe, taking advantage of the abundance of insects and fruit. Orioles are very partial to figs. They arrive in late April. By late August they have gone.
Our orioles, as we call them, always come back to the same nesting spot in a copse of tall trees along the lane. They cannot possibly be the same birds, since their lifespan is around eight years, but they clearly have a memory of and an attachment to particular breeding places. They build their nests in the canopy, suspended from thin branches, and incubate a clutch of three to five eggs.
Orioles are shy birds, and you are lucky to catch a glimpse of one. I have never been quick enough to get a photo, hence the Wikimedia image above. The male is a vibrant yellow and black, while the female is a more muted yellow-green colour. Their plumage makes good camouflage in the leafy canopies of tall trees. They are about the size of a blackbird.
I learned something today while researching this post. Orioles are passerine birds, which is a very large category denoting songbirds, about half of all bird species, in fact. They are also characterised by the arrangement of the toes: three pointing frontwards and one pointing backwards, making it easier for them to grip onto a bough while delivering their song.
It’s hard to describe the song in writing. Apart from the distinctive wolf-whistling, they have a raucous call rather like a jay. The song itself is a repeated cadence. This short clip will give you an idea.
I love our orioles and always look forward to their annual arrival. They are jolly parroty little birds, which often serenade us early on summer mornings and dart about between the trees. Like the hoopoes, with their outlandish crests, they provide a touch of the exotic in our leafy landscape.
By the way, since I last posted, Life on La Lune has had a bit of a makeover to make it look more modern and to highlight the photos better. I hope you like it. As always, thank you for reading.
Also, thank you for all the ideas for using surplus plums, many of them supplied via Facebook. I will gather them all up for a future post.
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