I volunteer with Tri County Wildlife Care and have a flight cage in my backyard. As small songbirds grow to up to adulthood, they transition to a flight cage to become accustomed to the outdoors and other wildlife as well as to build up their strength to fly. 

Two Bullock’s Orioles went into my flight cage. These are beautiful orange, black and white birds (the female’s colors are muted) that visit this area each spring and summer to breed. By the end of August to early September, they leave and fly to Mexico to enjoy a mild winter. 

Both of these birds came to Tri County Wildlife Care as orphans. One from Ione and one from Sutter Creek. Their rescuers saw they need help and brought them to us. 

After spending almost two weeks in the flight cage, release day arrived. Usually when birds are released, they fly off and either I never see them again or they blend in with the existing population. Finches are hard to tell apart as are sparrows. But I don’t see too many bullock’s orioles around. I did see a male this summer – so bright and gorgeous, and occasionally I see a female. They are not seen every day in my yard. 

When I opened the door for these two on July 19th, I assumed they would fly off and that would be it. Well, first of all, they didn’t fly off. They didn’t even fly out. They stepped out over the threshold of the door I use. Then one flew by me. 

They stayed very close to one another and in our yard. We see them every day. One is easy to identify because a couple of his tail feathers are worn off a little short. I asked Susan if it was okay to release him and after a conversation with Nancy B. the answer was yes. The other one looks fine but by its association with “bad tail,” I know that it was released from the flight cage, too. So, I referred to them as Bad Tail and Good Tail. 

They adopted the “bean porch” as home base that very first day. The bean porch is one of the supports for the asparagus beans planted in the garden. The big surprise was watching one of them eating the flowers. I didn’t know they ate flowers! When the peaches ripened, they ate those too. Later, I saw them on the Zinfandel grapes. I am not sure if they were eating bugs or the grapes, though, as the grapes weren’t quite ripe yet.

While walking around the garden and passing the suncholla tomatoes, an oriole would come flying out. We think they were eating the tomatoes and there was certainly evidence that someone was. Last year, I saw the wrens I released eating the Baby Boomer tomatoes, so I guess birds really do like tomatoes.

Each day, the bean porch is where I look for them first. Then the flight cage where they have worms available.  Their white Corelle soup dish was on the garden wall and they could be seen at the bowl drinking and having a bath. They were here every day. 

I kept worms available to them in the utility room of the flight cage. Every morning between 6 and 6:30, I would open the “restaurant” by opening the release door and allowing them access to worms. Then every evening about 8:00, I would close the release door. They were frequently seen coming and going with worms in their mouth. The very first day, though, I saw them eating bugs off of plants so, they knew where to find food in the wild. The worms I provided were a good supplement. There were some days when they barely touched the worms, but when the weather turned very hot, they hogged them down. It was easy food on a too hot day. 

It is so much fun to see them staying around and so close to each other. It means that what Tri County Wildlife Care does is successful though I think part of the success can be attributed to instinct. But who knew they’d eat flowers?!

I started making a note on the calendar every day of who I saw – Bad Tail, Good Tail or both Tails. Then on Thursday, August 22, I didn’t see either. No splashing in the water bowl. No evidence of eating worms. I had seen Bad Tail the day before on the threshold of the release door with a worm in his mouth. I didn’t see Good Tail but s/he was likely nearby. 

On the evening of the 21st when I closed the release door for the night and seeing there hadn’t been much worm eating activity, I knew they wouldn’t be around much longer. I had a talk with them, even though they were not there. I told them to have a good flight to Mexico and come back here next year. I plan on opening up the flight cage near the end of March so they can come into the “restaurant” for worms. I have tears in my eyes because I miss them already but I am also so happy for them. They were rescued, they survived, they did well in the flight cage, they stayed together and so close to our house for over a month. They leave on their journey well fed. 

Good luck little guys. Go be big birdies and bring back your babies. 

Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.