The name for this warbler comes from the dome-shaped nest it builds on the forest floor. Both the bird and the nest are well camouflaged, but the teacher-teacher-teacher song is loud and conspicuous. Ovenbirds spend most of their time foraging in the leaf litter and can look quite comical as they walk, not hop, with their tail tilted up. Their breeding range extends across northern and eastern North America, south to the northern Gulf Coast states and South Carolina. In winter, they migrate to southern Florida, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Ovenbirds can be found across the state during migration. In the breeding season they are most common in the Cumberland and Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee, and are uncommon to rare nesters in Middle and West Tennessee.
Description: This primarily ground-dwelling, large warbler is olive-brown on the back, with a wide orange crown bordered by black stripes on the head. It is white below with bold, dark streaks, and it has a large eye with a conspicuous white eye-ring. Males and females look alike.
Weight: 0.68 oz
Voice: The song is a loud, ringing teacher-teacher-teacher.
- Louisiana Waterthrushes have a broad whitish eyebrow line, no eye-ring, and constantly bob their tails.
- Thrushes are larger, have round spots, not streaks on their chests, and lack the orange and black crown.
Habitat: Ovenbirds breed in large tracks of mature upland deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, generally with closed canopy, large trees, few shrubs, and little ground cover. In migration, they can be found in a variety of forest types.
Diet: Insects, spiders and snails that live in the leaf litter, also some fruit in winter.
Nesting and reproduction: In Tennessee, egg laying peaks during the first half of May, and Ovenbirds may raise a second brood.
Clutch Size: Ranges from 3 to 6 eggs, with 4 or 5 most common.
Incubation: The female alone incubates the eggs for about 13 days.
Fledging: Both parents feed the young birds, which leave the nest only 8 days after hatching, and remain with the parents for another 3 to 4 weeks.
Nest: The female constructs the well-camouflaged domed nest of dead leaves and plant stems, and lines it with finer material. The nest is built on the ground and has a small side entrance that usually faces downslope.
Status in Tennessee: The Ovenbird is a common to fairly common migrant across the state. It is a common summer resident in East Tennessee, uncommon in Middle, and a rare summer resident in West Tennessee. Individuals arrive in mid-April and depart by mid-October. The declining population in the state may be due to forest fragmentation on the breeding ground, or habitat loss on the wintering grounds.
Dynamic map of Ovenbird eBird observations in Tennessee
- Ovenbirds are frequently parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. However, few cowbirds survive because Ovenbird young fledge faster than cowbird nestlings.
- The oldest known Ovenbird in the wild was 11 years old.
Obsolete English Names: golden-crowned thrush, golden-crowned wagtail (thrush)
Best places to see in Tennessee: Frozen Head State Natural Area, North Cumberland WMA, Great Smoky Mountains NP
For more information:
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Van Horn, M. A. and T. M. Donovan. 1994. Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla). The Birds of North America, No. 88 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.