GCBO Bird of the Month
by Mike Williams

The Ovenbird, (Seiurus aurocapilla) was first described by Linnaeus in 1766 and reclassified by Swainson in 1827. It is monotypic- the only member of the genus Seiurus. Originally grouped with Waterthrushes genetic studies showed no close relation and the latter have been placed in a different genus. There are 3 or 4 subspecies, (depending on the authority), but hard to separate in the field.

A summer visitor to a large part of the US and Canada, its breeding grounds are extensive throughout the Eastern US and Southern Canada. It winters in Mexico and the West Indies but there is a small winter population in Florida.

Preferred habitat is mature dry forest, (usually coniferous), with minimal undergrowth, but it has adapted to other kinds of woodland and scrub. As they are typically ground feeders the forest litter is critical to their food supply.

Ovenbirds build a dome-shaped nest on the ground made of twigs, leaves and grass. Indeed, it is from this structure that the bird gets its name as it resembles a Dutch oven. They lay 3-6 whitish eggs and are incubated for 11-14 days solely by the female. Ovenbirds are monogamous.

A ground feeder, ovenbirds eat insects, spiders, worms and snails but will eat vegetable matter and fruit when they need to.


Ovenbirds are a larger stocky warbler, olive brown above and white heavily spotted underparts. The head pattern is distinctive with an orange median stripe and dark borders on the crown, a distinct white eye ring on a brown face and a clear white throat with brown malar stripe either side. They typically have a short direct flight when disturbed and will skulk at ground level to avoid detection.

Ovenbirds have a very distinctive “teacher teacher teacher” song that can be variable depending on location. They are very vocal at night and can often be heard on migration.

Interesting Facts:

·      Ovenbirds have a very high mortality rate during migration and over half are thought to die every year on this hazardous journey.
·      The dome shaped nest with a side entrance resembles a Dutch oven hence the bird’s name.
·      Ovenbird nests are very prone to predation with snakes and racoons being a particular problem.
·      There are an estimated 24 million ovenbirds, but numbers are declining rapidly due to habitat loss, man-made structure strikes, and house cats. 
·      A group of Ovenbirds is known as a Stew.

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