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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

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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Keys to identification Help

Warblers
Warblers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Ovenbird is a chunky, larger-than-average warbler, but still smaller than a Song Sparrow. It has a round head, fairly thick bill for a warbler, and a jaunty tail often cocked upward.

  • Color Pattern

    Ovenbirds are olive-green above and spotted below, with bold black-and-orange crown stripes. A white eyering gives it a somewhat surprised expression. Like several other terrestrial, or near-terrestrial, warblers, Ovenbirds have pink legs.

  • Behavior

    Ovenbirds spend much of their time foraging on the ground, often walking with a herky-jerky, wandering stroll that is unlike most terrestrial songbirds. Territorial males are very vocal and often sing from tree branches, occasionally quite high up. This is one of the few songbirds that habitually sings in the heat of midafternoon.

  • Habitat

    Ovenbirds breed in closed-canopy forests, particularly deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous woods. You may find them in most forest types, from rich oak or maple woods to dry pine forest, although they avoid wet or swampy areas.

Range Map Help

Ovenbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Ovenbird

    Adult
    • Often seen on or near ground
    • Walks on ground instead of hopping
    • Rufous crown stripe bordered in black
    • Dull olive/brown back and wings
    • © Misha K, Montrose Point, Illinois, April 2010
  • _

    Ovenbird

    _
    • Stocky warbler that resembles a thrush
    • Usually seen on or near ground
    • Rufous crown stripe bordered in black
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Winter Springs, Florida, September 2011
  • _

    Ovenbird

    _
    • Stocky, dull brown warbler with dark streaking on breast
    • Acts more like a thrush and is usually seen on ground
    • Rufous crown stripe bordered in black
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Winter Springs, Florida, September 2011

Similar Species

Similar Species

Northern Waterthrushes and Louisiana Waterthrushes are darker brown above instead of the Ovenbird’s golden-olive. They have strong white eyebrow stripes, but they lack the Ovenbird’s eyering and strong black-and-orange crown stripes. Waterthrushes also hold their tails horizontally and wag their rear ends, unlike the steady, often cocked tail of an Ovenbird. Some people mistake Ovenbirds for thrushes, such as the Swainson’s Thrush, because of the Ovenbird’s spotted breast and forest-floor habitat. The key difference is size & shape: thrushes are larger and lankier, with rounded heads, longer tails, and less sharply pointed bills. Song Sparrows are not typically found inside closed forest and they do not walk along the forest floor. Song Sparrows have thick, conical bills instead of the Ovenbird’s straight, pointed bill. Song Sparrows also show a more complex face pattern without a white eyering or orange crown stripe.

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.