Lots of ingredients in Ovenbird

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This little bird has a big voice, some odd tail motion and incredible markings – if you can find it in the brush.

The Ovenbird is a ground-loving warbler, that walks or even struts on the forest floor, moving along with exaggerated steps, with its cocked tail flicked upward, while its head goes backward and forward as though it was tiptoeing, with its pretty pink feet.

Its song has been translated to say "Teacher, Teacher, Teacher, TEACHER" with a special loud emphasis on the last teacher. Because of this, well-known song and the constant tail flicking, the Ovenbird is commonly called “Teacher” as well as “Wood Wagtail.”

If you are fortunate enough to locate an Ovenbird in a dense wooded area, during the spring and summer months, you could be in for a real treat, especially if you are able to witness its unbelievable flight song.

It was described like this by an elder ornithologist in an ancient bird book: "Up it goes through the branches of the trees, leaping from limb to limb, faster and faster, ‘til it shoots from the treetops 50 or more feet into the air above them, and bursts into an ecstasy of song, rapid, ringing, and lyrical; brief but thrilling; emphatic but musical, having reached its climax of flight and song, the Ovenbird closes its wings and drops straight down, in a very similar manner, as the European Skylark."

If the Ovenbird's song were longer, it would certainly rival the song of that famous bird. This unbelievable display of song can be heard many times in Kentucky in early June in densely wooded areas, but it also could be heard from May to September, most often in the late afternoon or moonlight nights. However, it is possible to hear it in broad daylight or pitch dark and sometimes you might hear a dawn song.

Cedarmore Baptist Camp in the Northeastern corner of Shelby County, Southeastern Kentucky in any of the state parks, Mammoth Cave National Park and any other large wooded areas could give you a wonderful opportunity to become acquainted with the Ovenbird.

To give you some idea at to what to look for, the Ovenbird is a 6-inch-long bird with a 9.5-inch wide wingspan. It is a plump warbler with long pink legs, a short tail, which it bobs often, a rounded head, white under parts with bold black streaks, but it is the white striking eye ring that is difficult to miss.

Also, if you are looking at this bird head-on, the black lateral stripes on the upper part of its head, which encloses a chestnut orange top of head patch, is most obvious.

The Ovenbird breeds from Newfoundland, Central Quebec, Northern Ontario, Southwest Mackenzie, south to Eastern North Carolina, Northern Georgia, Arkansas, Colorado and Southern Alberta. It winters from Eastern South Carolina and the Gulf Coast south to the Northern Lesser Antilles, through Mexico to Colombia.

You will start seeing the Ovenbird in Kentucky around the third week of April in mature forests that have a lot of leaf litter.

Clutches are completed from mid-May to mid-June. The architecture of its nest is how this bird actually got its name. It was originally thought that it somewhat resembled an old-fashioned Dutch oven. The domed nest is on the ground and is often under a small log on a steep slope with its opening facing downhill and sheltered by low vegetation. It is so cleverly hidden that it is by no means, easy to find.

The nest is actually built in a depression in dead leaves, with the top being anchored also with dead leaves and vegetation. It is, of course, on the ground but can be an inch high. It is invisible from above and made of grasses, plant fibers, weed stems, leaves, rootlets, mosses and barks and lined with fine rootlets, fibers and hair.

The female alone builds this masterpiece of a nest in about five days. The diameter is 6.5 inches, the height of the nest and roof is 4.5 to 5 inches, the inside diameter is 3 inches, and the opening is 1.5 inches high and 2.25 inches wide. The male, meanwhile, may have as many as three different females, building these domed, Dutch-oven-type nests.

The females lay three to six (commonly four to five) smooth-shelled eggs that have a very slight glow. They are white and spotted with reddish brown and lilac. The females incubate these eggs for 11.5 to 14 days, with one brood being raised. The female sits very tightly on the nest and usually will not flush until nearly stepped on. However, once she is flushed, she slowly flutters away, dragging one wing along, which is the old broken-wing act to try to lead intruders away on an unsuccessful bird- or egg-eating venture.

This little warbler, unfortunately, commonly is victimized by the Brown-headed Cowbird.

The Ovenbird migrates south out of Kentucky, usually by the first two weeks of October. So you have almost six months in our beautiful commonwealth to search for the haunts of this unique little member of the warbler family in the Great Outdoors.


To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2014 Eagles, Falcons, Hawks & Vultures Calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.