Ovenbird exposed

The ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla, is a shy bird, more often heard than seen. I recorded this one in late May. It has a surprisingly loud song for a small bird.

Yesterday one brazenly watched me from a branch by my trail:

So it seems to be a good time to perform an introduction.

Its odd name comes from its nesting habits. If you’ve ever read Where’s Waldo? with your kids, here is the ovenbird equivalent:

The only way you ever find the nest is by accidentally almost stepping on it, so that she flies up. This was found two springs ago by Leigh McMillan Hayes, of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, who showed it to a few of us.

Closer up, the nest is tucked under the dead leaves, with a domed roof, just like an old fashioned bread oven:

Inside, you can just see her sitting on her eggs.

Having found it once, you can quietly return, and peer inside to see eggs and young. The blurry photo is me trying to be quick and not disturb them:

The adult bird is rather spiffy with a carrot-colored crown, sort of like Prince Harry:

Ovenbirds are warblers, insect eaters, foraging around on the forest floor. (Though they winter in Jamaica, lucky birds). But to breed, they need uninterrupted forest areas. Birds of the World says this: “Of primary importance for breeding is a large area of contiguous, interior forested habitat (Temple 1986, Robbins et al. 1989b, Van Horn 1995). The minimum contiguous habitat area required for this species to breed successfully ranges from 100 to 885 ha (Robbins 1979, Robbins et al. 1989b)”. That is a minimum of about 250 acres, which it has around me, but such habitat is becoming scarcer. On the bright side, its population seems for now to be stable.

It was relaxed enough to have a little scratch.


Robert Frost, that poet of the New England countryside, wrote this in 1916

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

PS I write this on the day the queen has just died. I grew up in England and went to London for the coronation, aged three. I got a blue teddybear and my sister got a pink one. She performed her largely ceremonial role with wisdom and grace for my entire lifetime, and today I feel my foundations shaken, and a deep loss. She too loved the countryside.

3 thoughts on “Ovenbird exposed”

  1. Queen Elizabeth certainly was, in many ways, a remarkable woman. She had a love for family, people and animals….many tears across the world have been shed today. With all the birds visiting our feeders…and sometimes even considering our yard home, with their nests, I was not aware of an Ovenbird, until a bird crashed into the sliding door…I took a photo and a blog friend ID’d it…& soon after, another one crashed into the slider.


  2. My heartfelt condolences, she was indeed a beacon of hope and a sign that not everything had changed after the war. Watching her coronation was my first TV event ever and I still remember how sorry I felt for her wearing this ridiculously heavy crown. But: nothing more charming than an Oven Bird to cheer you up.


  3. As usual, a beautiful reminder of our exceptional natural world and how we should cherish it.
    I too feel a great loss at the death of the Queen, for me a symbol of values, endurance, resilience, and grace. We won’t be seeing anyone like her I think for years to come.
    I’m visiting Vienna and interesting to note the feelings of profound sadness of the locals and visitors to the news of the Queen’s death.


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