A few years ago I was down in Madera Canyon, south of Tucson, Arizona. It’s a very famous birding spot, and rightfully so, as indeed I saw a lot of fine birds there I’d never seen anywhere else. I also saw my first grape jelly bird feeder there, which was really nothing more than an empty hanging basket with a cereal bowl full of grape jelly in it. But coming to that jelly were two different species of orioles and an amazing three different species of tanagers.
At that bowl of jelly feeder I spotted my first ever Hepatic Tanager, which I expected to be a dull, liver-colored bird, but which actually was a perfectly glamorous oriole in his own right.
A year later, in Minnesota this time, and I saw my first proper, home made wooden Concord grape jelly oriole feeder…and there were Baltimore Orioles right on it, eating the jelly.
I saw a second feeder like this a few miles away, and there were orioles at this feeder also. Now, my dad and I have had all manner of feeders to attract orioles over the years and none of them worked all that well. All of these worked on some larger version of a typical hummingbird feeder.
When I got back home (San Luis Obispo, California) I got a piece of wood that was about half an inch thick and five inches wide, cut it into four equally long pieces (each one around ten inches long), nailed them all together into some sort of a box with no top or bottom on it, and then drilled a large hole in one side of the “box.” Getting this hole large enough was probably the hardest part, and would have been much easier if I’d had a decent rasp. Not having any kind of rasp, I drilled the hole as large as I could, and then used an old hunting knife to whittle the hole larger, large enough so that it could hold a little 8 ounce plastic or paper disposable cup.
On one side of the inside of this contraption I stuck a headless nail for sticking orange slices on, and on the side opposite the new big hole for the cup, I twisted in an eye screw, and added a hook to that.
The new feeder was hung on a branch of our big loquat tree, the cup was filled with cheap grape jelly, stuck in the hole, and a half an orange was impaled on the headless nail….and there it sat for two weeks with no visiting birds at all.
Around this time I took off for a long trip to Canada to do some allergy free gardening work in the Toronto area. I hadn’t been out on the road more than a few days when my son, Josh, called me up. “You’ve got orioles at your grape jelly feeder!” he told me. In later days he sometimes reported whole families of orioles (Hooded Orioles), mom, dad, and four youngsters. He was also getting many visits from Western Tanagers as well.
By the time I got back home again it was late fall and the tanagers and orioles had all recently left….so I never did get to see them use my clever new contraption. Josh told me though, that while I was gone, he’d gone through four big quart jars of grape jelly.
Today, the 12th of March, it is starting to feel a bit like springtime. Today I added some new jelly to the feeder and hung it back up in the loquat tree.
No orioles showed up to check out the jelly. In three days I’m off to do an allergy audit of all the largest cities across Canada. It’s a great gig, very interesting work, and no one has ever before done a national allergy audit based on the type of plants in each city’s planted urban forest. But I’ll almost certainly miss the arrival of the tanagers and orioles to my backyard Concord grape jelly feeder. I feel kind of bad about that, but with any luck, I’ll be back home before fall this time, and will yet get to sit out in my backyard and feast my eyes on all those glorious black, yellow, white and orange birds.
You can buy one like this one online for about $40.
You can make one like this for less than a buck, and it works great!