Last July, I decided that I'd entice some orioles to my feeders, however I was doomed to fail at the starting gate. "Start early. Your best chance of attracting orioles is when they first arrive in the spring (early May in Minnesota)." http://www.birdsandblooms.com/birding/attracting-birds/bird-nesting/how-to-attract-orioles/ I can verify the May arrival because I took the photo of the oriole sitting on a tree branch in my central Minnesota yard on May 14, 2008. So, back to last summer, I put some grape jelly in a dish. I had been careful to compare the options. Smucker's Concord Grape Jelly: concord grape juice, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fruit pectin, citric acid, and sodium citrate (preservative). Smucker's Natural Concord Grape Fruit Spread: concord grape juice, sugar, concord grape puree, fruit pectin, and citric acid. Polaner Concord Grape Jelly: juice concentrates (pear, grape, pineapple), concord grape puree concentrate (water, concord grape juice, concord grapes), fruit pectin, citric acid. All that I attracted were bees. No orioles. Not a single one. Likely, this was because it was July. Fast forward to this year, I'll set the jelly out at the beginning of May instead. Then, I began to think. I know that it is common to feed birds grape jelly, but I just don't feel right about it.
There must be a nature-derived alternative that would supply the energy (carbs) required for orioles to rebound from their long spring migration through the nest building stage, "which takes up to twelve energy-zapping days to construct their pendulous sac-shaped nests on the ends of slender deciduous tree branches," http://www.birdsandblooms.com/birding/attracting-birds/bird-nesting/how-to-attract-orioles/ and protein to feed their young. Online research led me to the answer. "Orange halves (Photo: http://www.audubon.org/news/make-orange-feeder-orioles), ripe dark-colored fruit (darkest mulberries, reddest cherries, and the deepest purple grapes) served in a shallow, bright orange container that is placed in the open so it can be seen overhead when birds are in flight. They'll ignore green grapes and yellow cherries even if they're ripe." https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Baltimore_Oriole/lifehistory Also, plant fruit bearing trees on your property for a help yourself buffet, furnish a water source, aid their nest-building efforts by supplying yarn and string Terrain's Bird Nesting Cotton Ball (Photo: http://www.shopterrain.com/product/nesting-cotton-balls)...a gift from my daughter, Jessie, and offer mealworms for a protein source after eggs hatch. Orioles forage on their own, too, eating "a wide variety of insects, including beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, moths, and flies, as well as spiders, snails, tent and gypsy moth caterpillars, the larvae within plant galls, and other small invertebrates." https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Baltimore_Oriole/lifehistory
So, why is feeding grape jelly detrimental to a bird's health? "Birds developed the way they did by adapting to the environments in which they lived and the foods that sustained them. We do our best for them when we stick as closely as possible to their natural diets." http://blog.lauraerickson.com/2007/04/is-feeding-jelly-really-okay-for-birds.html To summarize the article's main points, jelly's high sugar content will satisfy hunger but not nutritional requirements and birds may exert less time foraging for their natural diet of foods in the wild. I know there will be many that will stalwartly stand behind their tried-and-true grape jelly offering, but it's all about choice, my friends. Grape jelly versus orange halves, the deepest purple grapes, darkest mulberries, reddest cherries, berries growing on bushes and trees, mealworms, and insects. Hmmmm...let me think on that.