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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 (1929)
A common member of the deciduous forest breeding bird community in North America, the Ovenbird is most conspicuous in its song -- the emphatic, familiar “Teacher….Teacher….Teacher” sung by males, often late into the breeding season. As both sexes have olive-brown backs, dull-orange caps and spotted breasts that blend well with the forest understory, this is a species more often heard than seen. Ovenbirds forage on the ground for leaf-litter arthropods, and their notoriously well-concealed nests are also on the ground and mainly constructed of leaves. The resemblance of the nest to a dome-shaped oven is the source of their common name.
Ovenbirds have a relatively wide breeding range that spreads in the North from eastern British Columbia to Quebec and Newfoundland, and in the South from northern Arkansas to North Carolina and Virginia. Their nonbreeding (winter) range includes Mexico, Central America, Florida, and the Caribbean islands.
In the first major treatise on this species, Hann (1937) stated that the Ovenbird “has attracted more than ordinary interest since first known to science,” and this continues to be true today. Its popularity as a study organism is the result of its abundance, wide distribution and relative ease of observation, as well as its tendency to be affected by habitat disturbances. Studies of Ovenbird territories were conducted by Stenger (1958) and Stenger and Falls (1959). Zach and Falls published studies of several aspects of Ovenbird biology including their response to spruce budworm outbreaks (1975), prey selection behavior (1978), and foraging behavior (1979). Lein (1980, 1981) published detailed descriptions of Ovenbird display behaviors.
More recently, Ovenbirds have become a model organism for understanding the effects of habitat fragmentation and forest harvest on songbirds. Ovenbirds have been negatively affected by fragmentation in New Jersey (Wander 1985), Pennsylvania (Porneluzi et al. 1993), Missouri (Gibbs and Faaborg 1990, Wenny et al. 1993, Donovan et al 1995, Porneluzi and Faaborg 1999), Wisconsin (Donovan et al 1995), Saskatchewan (Bayne and Hobson 2001a, 2001b, 2002), Ontario (Villard et al. 1993, Burke and Nol 1998) and Quebec (Villard et al. 1993). They are sensitive to habitat edges in Missouri (Porneluzi and Faaborg 1999), northern Wisconsin (Flaspohler et al. 2001a), north-central Minnesota (Manolis et al. 2002) and Ontario (Burke and Nol 1998). Studies of the effects of forestry on songbirds have found harmful effects on Ovenbird populations in Missouri (Gram et al. 2003), Alberta (Lambert and Hannon 2000), and New Hampshire (King et al. 1996). Ovenbirds are also negatively affected by disturbances such as forest roads in New Hampshire (King and DeGraaf 2002) and Vermont (Ortega and Capen 2002), powerline corridors in Tennessee (Kroodsma 1984), by chronic industrial noise (Habib et al. 2007) and by the creation of lines for seismic exploration in Canada (Bayne et al. 2005, Machtans 2006).
By avoiding fragmented habitat with higher risks of nest predation and brood parasitism, Ovenbird populations may be successful. The future success of Ovenbirds appears to depend on the continued existence of large areas of core habitat, especially the Ozarks, Appalachia, Pennsylvania, New England, northern Wisconsin, and Quebec and Ontario.