An Oriole to Puzzle Over

In the course of editing thousands of photos for the online Social Field Guide, I occasionally come across images that make my head hurt. No matter how many times I look at them or how many references I consult, sometimes I'm still not sure if I have the bird properly identified to species, sex, or age. Instances like this are simultaneously humbling–I don't know everything–and invigorating–there is still so much to explore and learn, thus birding will never become boring

Part of the fun of this learning process is the social activity that occurs in the reaching out to and hearing back from others who have more firsthand experience than I do with certain species. One of the cornerstones of what we are trying to do with our Social Field Guide is engage folks in discussions that teach us things that we can't find in our printed bird guides. With that in mind, we offer this oriole photo. 


Female-type oriole photographed at Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County, California on 11 July 2011. (Photo by Bill Holsten)

We invite you to share your opinions about the bird in the photo above. This image was captured  by Bill Holsten at Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County, California on 11 July 2011. Bill is an avid and very talented bird photographer, who is a comparative newcomer to birding. He sent this photo to me labeled as a female Hooded Oriole, which it very well may be since Hooded is one of the default summer season orioles in Southern California. 


Blow-up of the head from the photo above. 

When I look at this image, I see a couple things that don't seem to fit Hooded Oriole. First and foremost, the underparts strike me as being too lemony yellow or even greenish yellow for a Hooded. Secondly, the bill seems too straight and perhaps a bit too short and thin for a Hooded, although I could be convinced that there is enough curvature towards the tip for a Hooded. Finally, when I enlarge the image and look closely at the head I notice some apparent black feathering on the lower auriculars and the crown seems a bit dusky. 

My question is this, can we be sure that this is not an Orchard Oriole? I have the misfortune of living in a place where encounters with Hooded and Orchard Orioles are few and far between, so I look forward to hearing the opinions of those who enjoy them more frequently. I've asked Bill Holsten if he has other photos of this bird. If he does, I will add them to this journal post.

Please post your thoughts on this bird as comment to this journal piece. 


Funny, only reading the title of the post and seeing the photo, I thought to myself, “Easy, that’s an Orchard Oriole”. Then I saw where the photo was taken.

I suppose that says more about my east coast bias than it does about the bird, and I can’t say I’ve seen enough Hooded Orioles to make an informed statement, but if I saw this in the field here in NC, it’d be a slam-dunk Orchard.

For what it’s worth, I have a photo of an Orchard I banded in Wake Co, NC, that looks like it has a very hooked bill.


As a Southern Californian, this bird gives me no reasons to doubt that it is a Hooded Oriole … the expected species at the time and place the photo was taken.

Specific points: The breast and head seem tinged with olive/brown. The bill looks too deep and too long for Orchard. The lower edge of the lower mandible is clearly decurved. The contrast on the wing panel seems to low for Orchard, especially the lower wing bar. Finally, it just seems like a bigger bird: for example, the head seems too small relative to the body, and therefore does not give the bird that “warbler-like” structure of Orchard.

Despite the brightness of the yellow, it is well within the range of Hooded. The sun is coming in from a low angle, and I’m guessing that goes some way to explaining the bright yellow breast and belly.

Seems like a perfectly good Hooded Oriole to me.

Thanks for posting!


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