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Ovenbird

Seiurus aurocapilla ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Ovenbird's rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter. Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.

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Songs

The primary mating and territorial song of the male Ovenbird is a rapid, resounding tea-cher, Tea-cher, TEA-cher growing louder over the first few repetitions, with 8 to 13 teacher phrases in all. Pitch, speed, and emphasis of syllables in the 2.5–4 second song vary among individuals. To our ears, some may sound more like tea-tea-tea, and others more like teachier, teachier. Males use a shorter song during chases, attacks, and copulation attempts. This song is longer and more varied, starting with a series of short notes, followed by a complex ramble of teacher phrases and ple-bleep notes. Males also give a distinctive flight song at dusk that differs from the typical song, though includes a few ‘teacher’ phrases in it.

Calls

Males and females give several kinds of short call notes. Almost all are used only by one sex or the other. Distinctly male calls include ple-bleep and whink notes used in male-male encounters and in male-female chases. Female calls include a high tsip that may serve chiefly to identify her as a female in male-female interactions. A series of tsip calls after a male song associates a female with a particular male. The sexes share a chep call used for communication between them as well as in chases.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Male Ovenbirds spend much of the summer singing a very loud, ringing ‘tea-Cher, tea-Cher, tea-CHER, Tea-CHER, TEA-CHER’ that makes these birds pretty easy to locate (although it can take some patience to actually get them in view). Look for Ovenbirds in closed-canopy forests, the larger the better. As you carefully track down the source of the song, watch both in areas of open ground on the forest floor and on low branches up to as high as the lower canopy. When they’re foraging, Ovenbirds are usually on the ground and are not overly shy. With care, you can often watch them meandering about looking for food on the ground.

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Beyond the Empty Nest, Autumn 2011 Living Bird magazine.

Mercury Rising: Spring 2013 Living Bird magazine.