Connecticut Audbon Society

125th Anniversary

Daily Bird nesting season special: Ovenbird

Ovenbird at Whittemore Sanctuary, Woodbury Connecticut, May 2017. © C.S. Wood

June 23, 2022

Seiurus aurocapilla

by Chris Wood
Walking along my regular birding/hiking route at Whittemore Sanctuary in Woodbury in late spring, two ubiquitous birds demand my attention: Red-eyed Vireo and Ovenbird. Red-eyed Vireos may be the most common woodland songbird in the Northeast, but looking over my eBird data for Whittemore (a 680 acre mixed forest preserve) over the last two years, Ovenbirds lead there by about 2:1.

Ovenbirds breed from South Carolina through New England and eastern Canada all the way to northern British Columbia in northwest Canada. They are known to be sensitive to forest fragmentation and most kinds of forest disturbance, such as timbering, and they tend to require large forest blocks for breeding habitat.

While forest fragmentation remains a significant concern here in Connecticut, recent population trends for this bird, based on Breeding Bird Surveys throughout its range, appear to show stable or even increasing numbers. This may be a reflection of reforestation trends as well as land conservation efforts.

Ovenbirds are hard to miss. “TEAcher, TEAcher, TEAcher” rings out through the woods, almost to the point of distraction, especially when combined with chipmunks, toads and tree frogs, and the aforementioned vireos.

Ovenbirds are first on the taxonomic list of warblers in North America, meaning they are presumed to have arisen early in the evolution of warblers. They are certainly warbler-esque in appearance and habits, although they also display some convergent evolutionary characteristics with woodland thrushes, notably appearance and feeding strategies.

Olive-backed with dark streaks and spots on the breast, Ovenbirds resemble a combination of Veery and Wood Thrush, although their orange cap gives them away if their singing has not already.

Ovenbirds may be found in almost any large, unfragmented (50+ acres) deciduous/mixed woodlot in Connecticut, including State forests and protected open spaces like Connecticut Audubon’s Deer Pond Farm in Sherman. May and June are best for finding these birds, as they are actively singing and foraging. If you notice one in early June, stop and watch for a while – you may see them feeding fledglings.

Like thrushes, Ovenbirds glean invertebrate prey and occasionally seeds from the forest floor leaf litter, where they make their nests. The Dutch oven shape of their nests give this species its common name and while their nests are notoriously difficult to locate on purpose, I stumbled over one once, flushing the brooding adult. I felt guilty but took a quick photo in case I never see another in the wild.

Stopping to watch these pretty little warblers go about their serious business of nesting and raising young is inspiring. They are so earnest and committed, yet somehow seem to be enjoying themselves.

Ovenbird nest, White Memorial, Little Pond, May 2015. © C.S. Wood

The Birds of the World Online account for Ovenbird summarizes their population status:

“By avoiding fragmented habitat with higher risks of nest predation and brood parasitism, Ovenbird populations may be successful. The future success of Ovenbirds appears to depend on the continued existence of large areas of core habitat, especially the Ozarks, Appalachia, Pennsylvania, New England, northern Wisconsin, and Quebec and Ontario.”

So if you hear Ovenbirds on your next hike in the woods, you know you are in a healthy forest ecosystem that is key to maintaining biodiversity in our state.

All photos © C.S. Wood

You might also be interested in a presentation by Eliza Grames about the Ovenbird research that formed the basis of the dissertation for her PhD from the University of Connecticut. The presentation was part of the first season of Connecticut Audubon’s Young, Gifted and Wild About Birds series.






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