Oriole, You’re Not in Mexico Anymore

On February 2nd, I received a text message from Ryan Zucker (rjzucker) on our group chat that read, “PA (Pennsylvania) PEOPLE!!!” with a photo attached. At that moment, I thought, “I’m a PA person,” and opened it. Before my eyes, a large, stunning, black-and-orange bird with a striking white wing patch and primaries popped onto the screen. It was a type of oriole for sure, but I had never seen anything like it. After reading the description, I discovered it was a Black-backed Oriole that had found its way to the orange halves feeder of 20 Indiana Avenue, Sinking Spring, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Now, let’s get this straight, this bird is an extremely lost one… perhaps. There is still speculation on if it is a captive escape or not, but it is not without reason. The Black-backed Oriole hails from central Mexico. It seems crazy that a bird, whose species is not a long distance migrant to begin with, would end up in a random yard about 2,000 miles from its usual range. There was a report in 2000 in San Diego of a Black-backed Oriole that the committee accepted on their state list as wild, but it was rediscovered in the same location in 2002. They, then, took it off the list because they thought that meant it was a captive bird. But, anything is possible. There is a very good chance that this didn’t make it to Pennsylvania without assist, but if is in fact wild, that means it is an ABA 1st.

This is an amazing thing to see for a birder, a bird so far off course that it seems impossible and it is only two hours from my house!! The only problem was that I, at the moment of that text, was sitting in a hotel room in Quebec, Canada for a school trip. Boy, was I terrified that that bird was going to leave before I got home on the night of the 4th.

As I hunkered down at 8 AM for the 14 hour bus ride home, I checked the eBird hotspot for sightings. It had been seen all day on the 3rd. “Good,” I thought, “Hopefully it’ll stick around,” and the tedious ride home commenced.

As I dragged into my house at 10 PM, I wearily reported to my parents the importance of seeing this bird the next day. They agreed, and at 9 in the morning, we set out to 20 Indiana Avenue.

I was prepared to wait for about an hour or two, hoping that a hawk wouldn’t be nearby to quiet the feeder activity or worse yet, prey upon the oriole. Pulling into the sleepy, suburban development and walking a few yards to the street it decided to reside on, we saw this scene as we approached:

That’s me smiling, of course.

As you can see, this bird is an extremely huge deal for the birding community. As we waited, a Red-tailed Hawk flew over us… great, just what we needed. But, my fears were not necessary, for only a couple of minutes later, bam, the oriole was on the feeder. He is even more beautiful than he looks in the badly blurred and distant photos that were obtained:

That’s the best we got, sorry… (Google has good pictures)

What made this experience even cooler, was the Binders, the family that let us birders stand in their driveway. They even put out a crockpot of hot dogs and buns for us. But, probably the best item they had out was a sign-in book. I went over after the oriole came back for the second time and paged through the small notebook. At least 27 pages were filled with people’s names and hometowns from all across the country. It was incredible to see people from Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and even someone from San Francisco, California fill the pages.

The bird has been seen at the location since January 31st and is still there as of today. Even if it isn’t the country’s first official Black-backed Oriole, it was sure great to see it anyway, just in case.

Until next time,

–Madelyne Ray

P.S. Please, pardon the title’s pun, I had to do it.


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