Birds - Ovenbird
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Seiurus aurocapillus) Wood Warbler family
Called also : GOLDEN-CROWNED THRUSH; THE TEACHER; WOOD WAGTAIL ; GOLDEN-CROWNED WAGTAIL ; GOLDEN-CROWNED ACCENTOR
Length—6 to 6.15 inches. Just a shade smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female—Upper parts olive, with an orange-brown crown, bordered by black lines that converge toward the bill. Under parts white; breast spotted and streaked on the sides. White eye-ring.
Range—United States, to Pacific slope.
Migrations—May. October. Common summer resident.
Early in May you may have the good fortune to see this little bird of the woods strutting in and out of the garden shrubbery with a certain mock dignity, like a child wearing its father's boots. Few birds can walk without appearing more or less ridiculous, and however gracefully and prettily it steps, this amusing little wagtail is no exception. When seen at all—which is not often, for it is shy—it is usually on the ground, not far from the shrubbery or a woodland thicket, under which it will quickly dodge out of sight at the merest suspicion of a footstep. To most people the bird is only a voice calling, " TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER!" as Mr. Burroughs has interpreted the notes that go off in pairs like a series of little explosions, softly at first, then louder and louder and more shrill until the bird that you at first thought far away seems to be shrieking his penetrating crescendo into your very ears. But you may look until you are tired before you find him in the high, dry wood, never near water.
In the driest parts of the wood, where the ground is thickly carpeted with dead leaves, you may some day notice a little bunch of them, that look as if a plant, in pushing its way up through the ground, had raised the leaves, rootlets, and twigs a trifle.
Examine the spot more carefully, and on one side you find an opening, and within the ball of earth, softly lined with grass, lie four or five cream-white, speckled eggs. It is only by a happy accident that this nest of the ovenbird is discovered. The concealment could not be better. It is this peculiarity of nest construction—in shape like a Dutch oven—that has given the bird what DeKay considers its "trivial name." Not far from the nest the parent birds scratch about in the leaves, like diminutive barn-yard fowls, for the grubs and insects hiding under them. But at the first suspicion of an intruder their alarm becomes pitiful. Panic-stricken, they become fairly limp with fear, and drooping her wings and tail, the mother-bird drags herself hither and thither over the ground.
As utterly bewildered as his mate, the male darts, flies, and tumbles about through the low branches, jerking and wagging his tail in nervous spasms until you have beaten a double-quick retreat.
In nesting time, at evening, a very few have heard the " luxurious nuptial song" of the ovenbird; but it is a song to haunt the memory forever afterward. Burroughs appears to be the first writer to record this " rare bit of bird melody." " Mounting by easy flight to the top of the tallest tree," says the author of " Wake-Robin," "the ovenbird launches into the air with a sort of suspended, hovering flight, like certain of the finches, and bursts into a perfect ecstasy of song—clear, ringing, copious, rivalling the goldfinch's in vivacity and the linnet's in melody."