This week’s featured bird is fun – what’s not to love about a warbler with colorful and distinct markings, a widespread range and a quirky name? Meet the ovenbird!
Scientific Name: Seiurus aurocapilla
Scientific Family: Parulidae (New World Warblers)
Habitat: This warbler feels most at home in large, mature forests with thick canopies and plenty of leaf litter on the forest floor, though the floor should be relatively open without dense, low growth. Hardwood forests are preferred, particularly oak and maple, and some scattered shrubby areas provide good cover for foraging and nesting. Forests that are slightly damp or near riparian areas are also better suited for ovenbirds, but they avoid marshy or very wet areas.
Range: These birds spend the summer breeding season spread throughout much of the eastern and central United States, as far north as into the boreal forest belt of Canada. In winter, however, they migrate and spend the cooler part of the year in central and southern Florida and much of central and southern Mexico, as well as throughout the Caribbean and slightly into northern South America.
These birds have bold markings, with their olive green-brown upperparts and white underparts with dark streaking. The white throat is bordered by dark, thin malar streaks. The full white eye ring stands out in their face, and the crown is marked with an orange patch bordered by black stripes. The tail is relatively short, and the legs and feet are pale pink.
Unlike most warblers that stay high in trees and glean from foliage, ovenbirds are ground warblers, and pick through leaf litter on the ground. They will wander about just as energetically, however, plucking insects, snails and slugs off the moist ground, often flicking their tails as they go. When singing, they may be unexpectedly high up in trees.
The ovenbird gets its unique name from its unique nest. Built on the forest floor, the domed nest is completely enclosed, with a small entrance on the side. There is a smaller inner cup inside the nest, but the exterior is expertly camouflaged to blend in with typical forest floor debris, including leaves, twigs, grasses and mosses. Overall, the nest resembles an outdoor bread oven or other domed clay oven, which earns the bird its name.
I’ve seen these interesting birds several times, and each time it is a treat to watch their active foraging and note their bold field marks. Because they are widespread, you never know where one might appear, so keep a close eye on forested spots and don’t worry about raking leaves. Ovenbirds just might be around!