Practically the first living creature I noticed the morning after I moved into this old stone cottage was a Baltimore oriole. I had a cup of strong coffee clutched desperately in hands made stiff and swollen from lifting boxes and shifting furniture, and I’d just staggered from the kitchen to the living room and out onto the narrow deck that overlooks the river. The gaudy, eye-catching male was sitting in a sunlit opening about halfway up a towering, white-trunked sycamore on the island directly across the channel—ember bright against the dark green leaves, visible as a neon sign.
A jaunty, living flame of a bird.
As if in greeting, the oriole let loose with a verse or two of his lovely, flute-like whistles. I felt suddenly elated by his cheery welcome and immediately forgot all about my aching back and assorted pains.
I'm not the first to be captivated by an oriole's voice. Naturalist Mark Catesby named the Baltimore oriole after George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, who visited Virginia in 1628, and was so delighted by the song and appearance of the many orioles he saw along the way that orange-and-black became the official heraldic colors of the Maryland colony. Audubon wrote vividly of days filled with orioles and their songs when he was exploring on both the Mississippi and Ohio rivers—the “thousand musical voices coming from neighboring trees,” and the gratification he experienced “upon sight of the brilliant birds.”
I only managed a couple of shots of the Baltimore oriole that recently showed up in the dooryard box elder. Neither is particularly good. And after looking and comparing these photos to other images online, I'm frankly still not sure whether this less-colorful Baltimore oriole is a female or immature male—though I think the bird might be a bit too orange for a female. However, it also lacks a mature male's solid black head and the orange seems more muted than a typical adult male's…though drab only by full-dress oriole standards. So I remain confused. Opinions would be welcomed.