There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
Robert Frost, The Oven Bird
The song of the Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) is one of the most familiar summer sounds of deciduous forest in the northeastern United States. This loud, chanting sound, often rendered as “Teacher teacher teacher teacher teach!” can be heard in our area in just about any larger patch of forest from May into July. The Ovenbird is a ground-dwelling warbler that superficially resembles a thrush; indeed in John James Audubon’s time the Ovenbird was known as the Golden-crowned Thrush. Its current name refers to its nest, a small domed affair shaped rather like a Dutch oven, constructed mostly of dead leaves on the forest’s floor.
Though the Ovenbird’s olive-brown upperparts and white black-streaked underparts do often cause it to be confused with our brown forest thrushes such as the Wood Thrush and Veery, it can be easily distinguished from any these species by its distinctive gait: the Ovenbird walks, bobbing its head in a chicken-like strut, unlike our thrushes, which hop. And, given a good look at the bird, its thin orangey crown stripe helps identify it as well.
The large tracts of forest Ovenbirds and other interior forest bird species need for nesting habitat are increasingly broken up into smaller fragments by development. With habitat fragmentation comes increased predation by house cats, raccoons, opossums, and other mammalian predators associated with humans, and increased brood parasitism by cowbirds. Deforestation in the Ovenbird’s wintering grounds in Central America, northern South America, and the West Indies is also impacting their survival.
Help conserve Ovenbirds by preserving forests, keeping cats and dogs away from nesting habitat, and purchasing paper and wood supplies that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.