Ovenbird. (Kevin Breitenstein)

“Teacher, TEACHER, TEACHER!” The song rang through the forest as I walked the trail at Valentine Farm Conservation Center. Leaves had not yet popped, and you’d think it would be easy to find the bird with such a loud song just a few feet away. But, no matter how hard I searched, I couldn’t find it.

The ovenbird (photo by Kevin Breitenstein) is a small warbler that spends its winters in the Caribbean, Southern Mexico and Central America. It returns to Western Maine each spring to raise its young. Its loud song, something you would expect from a bird two or three times its size, rings out in our forest all spring and summer.

I would be willing to bet you have heard this bird, even if you didn’t know who was singing. Hearing the bird is one thing. Finding it is another. It is small and creeps along the forest floor looking for spiders and pill bugs. It is olive brown on its back and tail with a distinct, white eye-ring, black stripes on its head and black, streaky spots on its throat and chest. When alarmed, it can show a bright orange patch on the top of its head but, otherwise, that can be hard to see.

This bird is called an ovenbird because it builds a nest on the ground that someone thought looked like an overturned Dutch oven. I’ve never found one of these nests. They are well-hidden and, as much as I hear this bird, I only see them occasionally. They are well-disguised and stick to the forest undergrowth. When you do see this bird, you will find it walking with a high-stepping, head-bobbing motion along a downed log, flipping leaves as it goes.

The next time you are walking along one of the Mahoosuc Land Trust’s trails, listen for this small bird’s big song. Watch carefully, and you may just catch sight of this shy, beautiful bird.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Rd., Bethel, or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about events or to contact James, email [email protected]


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