The Golden Oriole


This is without doubt one of the most enjoyable and readable monographs I have seen for a very long time. It is the essential reference work for this highly attractive species, and structured through numerous sub-headings, under which a host of fascinating aspects of the bird are brought to life in an easily digestible style.


The authors are well qualified to write a book on this enigmatic species; both are founder members of the Golden Oriole Group, set up in the mid-1980s to study and protect an incipient (at that time) breeding colony that was attempting to become established in parts of East Anglia. The book sets out their findings and documents the levels of success these birds had, comparing this with studies elsewhere in the species’ range.


As may be expected in such a work there are chapters on habitat, including a detailed account of the trees which the birds have used in Britain and covering the particular poplar species favoured by the East Anglian population, climate, courtship and breeding, diet, song, population, migration and wintering. Interspersed with these are illuminating chapters on more surprising aspects of the bird, including why Kazakhstan is important for the European and Indian subspecies of Golden Oriole, split as Eurasian Golden Oriolus oriolus and Indian Golden Oriolus kundoo Orioles in this book; interspecific relationships; and orioles in captivity.


There is something for everyone here. For the taxonomist, the book opens with a lengthy chapter on ageing and plumages of Golden Orioles, before moving on to discuss the species’ place within the entire genus Oriolus, and concluding with a note on the convergently evolved Icterid orioles of the New World.


For the conservationist, the expansion of the population into southern Britain and its subsequent retreat from here and elsewhere in northern Europe is discussed, together with a country breakdown of the population and distribution elsewhere in Europe and in North Africa. And for the general reader there is the life history of this brilliant bird, with its atmospheric and evocative fluty calls and song. On a very topical note, there is also a brief look at the future and what the likely impact of climate change may be for the species.


The colour photographs, taken mostly of the East Anglian birds, adequately illustrate plumage, ageing and breeding features. My two minor complaints are firstly that there aren’t more photographs, especially of the habitats used by the bird throughout its range, and secondly perhaps the lack of a colour plate of the bird to complement those on the dust jacket – both a real delight. However, neither are a real detraction. 


This is one of those books that informs and inspires through detailed insight derived from many hours’ observation. The authors and artist are to be congratulated on a definitive piece of work. For those who have never seen a Golden Oriole, make it a priority – you are missing an ornithological treat. For those who have, this book will help recall that special moment when you last saw one.

Tech spec

The Golden Oriole by Paul Mason and Jake Allsop (T & A D Poyser, 2009).

280 pages, 35 black-and-white illustrations, eight colour plates.

ISBN 9780713676839. Hbk. £50.

First published in Birdwatch 215:44 (May 2010)

Available from Birdwatch bookshop