Ovenbirds: Nesting Low, Migrating Far

Our spring newsmagazine featured Cliff’s top ten hidden gems of birding. Here is the second of a blog series on these birds, by guest blogger Ed Pope.

The ovenbird gets its name from its dome-shaped nest, which looks like an old style oven. It is slightly larger than a goldfinch. The males and females look similar, with brown feathers on top and black streaks amidst white on the bottom. Ovenbirds breed in the northeast and Midwestern portions of the United States and into Canada, and as far west as Montana and western Canada. In winter, they migrate to Mexico, Central America, Florida and islands in the Caribbean.

The ovenbird’s diet consists primarily of insects, but also includes spiders, snails and worms. During the winter they also eat fruit. They catch some insects in flight, but find most of their prey on the forest floor. With their preference for deep leaf litter with plenty of invertebrates, they prefer the interior of deciduous forests.

The female ovenbird builds her nest on the ground, taking about five days. It is constructed of leaves, grass, twigs and bark. The interior of the nest is often lined with deer hair. Leaves are used to camouflage the exterior. The entrance hole is always on the side. She locates it at least 60 feet away from the forest edge, often near a small opening of the canopy. In the nest she will generally lay four or five eggs. Once the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks. Since their nests are on the ground, ovenbird chicks are susceptible to a variety of predators including skunks, weasels, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks and hawks. Usually ovenbirds raise only one brood each year.

As forests fragment, ovenbirds become more susceptible to cowbirds, who will lay one of their eggs in an ovenbird nest. Unlike most other birds, ovenbirds are often successful raising some of their own chicks along with a cowbird chick. Despite the loss of chicks due to cowbirds, the ovenbird population has been relatively stable, and is estimated to be around 22 million.

With luck, you may find this bird at Blossom Hollow in southern Johnson County. Listen in on the male’s song below.

Ed Pope

Guest Blogger

Ed Pope is a retired engineer from Rolls-Royce and a CILTI member since 2002.