I had never even heard about Ovenbirds before we read “The Burgess Bird Book for Children.” Burgess names the Oven Bird in his book Teacher because of the way it mimics his call, “Teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher!” And he explains why he is called the Ovenbird:
It is because of the way Mrs. Teacher and I build our nest. Some people think it is like an oven and so they call us Oven Birds. I think that is a silly name myself, quite as silly as Golden Crowned Thrush, which is what some people call me. I’m not a Thrush. I’m not even related to the Thrush family. I’m a Warbler, a Wood Warbler.”Teacher in The Burgess Bird Book, Living Press Edition, p. 89-90
I believe that people may mistake North American Ovenbirds for Thrushes because of their coloring. Thrushes are usually rusty brown with black spots trailing down their white tummies. However, the Ovenbird’s size is much too small. They are closer the size of Sparrows or smaller, clearly in line with other Warblers. Let’s take a look at this Wood Warbler’s nest:
I loved this find from Nature of New England because he also taught us a bit about the Ovenbird’s behavior, which we can use to identify them on the trails. He was on a hike in the woods and saw a little bird dart out from the forest floor in front of him, typical behavior for an Ovenbird.
The Cornell Lab also writes something helpful in identifying this bird in the woods, “The Ovenbird’s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter.” (Source: allaboutbirds.org)
It’s amazing to be a part of passing down this kind of knowledge to the next generation. We often think that we are all-knowing, but everything we know, especially about the natural world around us, is gleaned from the work of countless generations. Their curiosity and hunt for understanding is what we benefit from today, and that certainly is true of Thornton W. Burgess and his work!
Here is what we gleaned about Teacher the Ovenbird in our study:
Until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate