Spent Oriole Nests prompt Quick Shooting Lesson

  • We created a happy oriole colony around our home by providing grape jelly feeders
  • Abandoned (used) oriole nests are never used again by the orioles
  • The nests proved to be surprisingly easy to “harvest”

By Mike Schoonveld

We created an oriole bird colony around our country home by providing grape jelly feeders.

How often have you watched a scene in an old western movie where a good guy is about to be strung up by an evil sheriff? The hero comes along, often on horseback, pulls out his six-shooter or Winchester and fires a shot which blasts through the sturdy rope, saving the good guy’s life.

Similar scenes occurred often enough, so the crew from the Mythbusters TV show decided to see if it was even possible. Could Clint Eastwood have really pulled off this stunt with a single bullet?

Of course not. I’m not dissing “the man with no name’s” shooting ability, but the Mythbusters, not surprisingly, couldn’t sever a thick hemp rope without hitting it with several bullets.

When I spotted the basket-like nests made by Baltimore orioles in the leafless treetops of two of the maple trees in my yard, I wanted them. Each nest was about 30 feet off the ground, nowhere near the trunks where I could climb the tree or even erect an extension ladder. Short of hiring a bucket truck to elevate a worker high enough to snip them free, the only thing I could think of to remove the nests was to shoot them down.

Then I thought of the Mythbuster’s episode I’d watched. How many shots with .22 bullets would it take to gun down the nest? I was pretty sure, as the Mythbuster stars proved with the rope, it would take several hits to completely cut through the narrow branch. The shooter or shooters wouldn’t have the advantage of being able to shoot from a rest and even a slight breeze would up the difficulty, as the wind would make the twig a moving target. I bought 1000 cartridges.

In the past several years an oriole colony has been “created” around our country home by putting out oriole feeders at our bird-feeding station. It started when we spotted a Baltimore oriole trying to suck a bit of the sugar-water “nectar” we’d poured into our hummingbird feeder. I’d heard orioles were attracted to oranges, so I fastened orange halves on the bird feeder stand where the oriole could find it.

It did, but two things happened quickly. First, the oriole quickly ate the fruit part of the orange and in a day or two, what was left looked pretty much like a weathered orange peel. The oriole moved back to fighting the hummers for the sugar-water.

A quick check and click or two on my Amazon Prime account had an oriole feeder heading my way. “Instead of sugar water,” said the instructions, “fill the food receptacle on the feeder with grape jelly.”

I don’t know what the attraction to grape jelly is for orioles. Most bird feeders just make a ready and steady supply of naturally available foods the birds would otherwise have to hunt to find. I don’t know of a natural supply of grape jelly.

The oriole quickly figured out the new feeder and was a happy bird. It soon became even happier when a female oriole showed up and both of the birds enjoyed regular visits to the jelly bonanza. By late June, their fledglings joined the parents for another few weeks, before they disappeared to wherever they migrate to in fall.

Used oriole nests are abandoned by the orioles after use, they proved to be surprisingly easy to “harvest.”

The next spring (late April) they were back. Were they from the same family? I can’t say, but there were more of them and even more the following year. (We now have three oriole feeders and buy bulk, generic grape jelly to keep them all happy.)

Orioles don’t reuse their unique nests so removing them from our tree wouldn’t disappoint our birds, but my wife thought she could use them decoratively in our house. When my son, son-in-law, and daughter were home for Christmas, I pulled out three .22 rifles and we all headed to our country farm.

Disclaimer: My house is in the country, I have one neighbor a quarter-mile away and no others within .22 rifle range. We assessed where our spent bullets would go before firing any of the guns.  First, we sighted in the rifles to make sure they were zeroed perfectly at 30 feet – about the height of the nests. That took about a dozen rounds. Each rifle was fully-loaded, but before any of the magazines were emptied, my son hit the supporting twig and down came the nest. Just luck?

We moved to the second nest, reloaded and began firing. In less than a minute that nest dropped to the ground, as well. Total ammo used? Forty-eight bullets! Move over, Clint Eastwood.