Golden bird with a golden song

By Michel Idre – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35155459


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.

Tall trees. Favourite oriole haunt

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.

Songbirds

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.

You might also enjoy:

Woodpeckers!

What a hoot: in praise of owls

Very welcome visitors

Copyright © Life on La Lune, 2020. All rights reserved.

7 comments

  1. It’s been a little while since I saw one of the orioles, but I have a feeling that there may be some nesting around the village – the song I hear is remarkably similar to the one in the clip. That’s a great site for identifying bird calls by the way!!

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    • I expect they are orioles, in that case. They do seem to return to previous nesting sites. Yes, I was pleased to find that site yesterday. Although it’s a British site, many of the birds are the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We’ve got Kestrels nesting in the village – it’s been pretty interesting hearing their call, but not seeing them! Last week we struck lucky when three of them were circling and one of those landed on the drainpipe – very briefly but still!! 🙂

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        • We had some kestrels nesting near us, but we could never find out exactly where. We heard them calling. They sit on the telephone wires down the lane waiting to pounce.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, the golden orieles. I look forward to their arrival every year. Summer is on the way when I hear them. I sometimes think I see a flash of gold but more in hope, I think.
    I have always thought their call sounds like someone practising a wolf whistle but not quite making it. But I love to hear him/her calling when I open the shutters in the morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are certainly something to look forward to every year. I saw several the other day, but they don’t hang around. Just a brief glimpse.

      Our orioles are rather adept at wolf-whistling. It really does sound like a person! They have obviously been practising.

      Liked by 1 person

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