Ovenbirds are New World birds found only in the neotropics. They belong to the order Passeriformes and family Furnariidae. There are 55 genera of ovenbirds and 236 species. Ovenbirds can be found in almost all habitats from rocky intertidal zones to deciduous forest, desert and high alpine areas. They are important members of all bird communities in South America and in some regions they account for 25 percent of all bird species.

Ovenbirds are small to medium sized birds (10 to 26 cm long, 8 to 109 g). Their plumage is primarily shades of brown; however, they often have complex patterns of spots and stripes. Some species have wingbands, tail patches or more brightly colored throat patches. They have very diverse bill and tail structure. Bill shapes and sizes reflect foraging habits. Ovenbird tails are often stiffened and have bare feather tips, modifications that aid the birds in climbing. Males and females look similar, although males may be slightly larger.

Ovenbirds are monogamous, and pairs often remain together from year to year. They are well known for their diverse and often complex nest structures. In fact, the name ovenbird comes from the oven-like structure of some species’ nests.

Although ovenbirds as a group occupy a wide range of habitats, many individual species have very restrictive habitat requirements. Because of these requirements their ranges are often small and fragmented. This, combined with anthropogenic habitat destruction has lead to population declines in many ovenbird species. (Dickinson, 2003; Remsen, 2003; Sibley and Ahlquist, 1990; Skutch, 1996)

Geographic Range

Ovenbirds are New World birds found only in the neotropics. They can be found from central Mexico to the southernmost parts of South America. They are also found on Trinidad, Tobago and the Falkland and Juan Fernandez Islands. Their range extends much farther south and to much higher elevations than many other South American bird families. Eighty nine percent of Furnariidae species are endemic to South America. (Remsen, 2003; Roper and Hutson, 2003; Skutch, 1996)


Ovenbirds are found in almost all habitat types. Though their highest diversity is in lowland tropical forest, they are also found in desert, mudflats, coastal sand dunes, saltwater marshes, rocky intertidal zones, bogs, marshes, open areas, scrub, wet cloud forest, urban and agricultural areas. Ovenbirds can be found from sea level to elevations of 4500 meters. Many species are found in areas near water and in rocky areas where rocks are used as foraging substrates or nests sites.

Some species have strict habitat requirements. For example, point-tailed palmcreepers (Berlepschia rikeri) are only found in groves of palm trees which may be small and isolated. Araucara tit-spinetails (Leptasthenura setaria) are restricted to a single tree species, Araucaria angustifolia. (Remsen, 2003; Roper and Hutson, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

Physical Description

Ovenbirds are small to medium sized birds (10 to 26 cm long, 8 to 109 g). Their plumage is primarily shades of brown. However, they often have complex patterns of spots and stripes. Some species have wingbands and tail patches that can be seen when the birds are in flight. Some have more brightly colored throat patches that can be exposed during displays. Orange-fronted plushcrowns (Metopothrix aurantiaca) are green and yellow, and are the only brightly colored ovenbird.

Ovenbirds have very diverse bill and tail structure. Bill shape and size reflect foraging habits, and range from long, broad and curved to short and straight. Ovenbird tails are often stiffened and have bare feather tips. These modifications in tail morphology aid the birds in climbing. Some species have standard passerine tails and others have very long tails. Ovenbirds' wings are usually short and rounded, although they are occasionally pointed. These birds also have large feet and thick legs. The bill, legs and feet are dark in most species.

Male and female ovenbirds look similar, although males may be slightly larger. Juveniles are colored differently than adults and tend to be more cryptic. Molting does not change the appearance of adult birds. Ovenbirds give off a unique musty odor that is thought to come from the oil in the uropygial gland. It is not known if the smell has any function, but it may help repel ectoparasites. (Remsen, 2003; Roper and Hutson, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger


Ovenbirds are monogamous. They defend nesting territories and pairs are often lifelong. Little is known about the breeding behaviors of ovenbirds, but there are some records of courtship behaviors by some species. Some ovenbirds sing while performing a wing raising display and others have display flights where they hover 50 meters above the ground while singing. Courtship feeding has also been noted for some species. There is some suggestion that there may be helpers at the nest in some species, but the evidence is not conclusive. Observations have been made of the young of the first brood helping to build the nest for the second brood. (Remsen, 2003; Roper and Hutson, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

Most ovenbirds breed during the spring and summer or during the onset of the wet season, but some may breed year-round. In most species, breeding occurs during periods of maximum arthropod abundance. Ovenbirds usually have one or sometimes two broods per year, but they will replace broods if they are lost.

Nest construction may begin months before the breeding season. Ovenbird nests are quite variable. They can take from two weeks to three months to build and can weigh up to five kilograms. Ovenbirds build three different types of nests: adobe mud nests, nests in cavities and domed nests. Adobe nests look like ovens and are the root of the birds’ name. These nests are made of mud, plant material and dung and are usually lined with grass. Cavity nests are usually placed in a woodpecker hole or a natural cavity, or are a burrow that is usually a long tunnel, up to one meter into a cliff or bank. It is not known if all the burrow nesting species excavate the tunnels or if some use tunnels dug by rodents or other animals. These nests are lined with grass, woodchips, spider web and other materials. Domed nests are made of vegetation such as sticks and grass. Some species use twigs from thorny plants, making the nests difficult for predators to destroy. The birds also use barbed wire, snake skin, feathers and bone as nest materials. Nests are built in cactuses or thorny vegetation or hanging from branches, and can be up to two meters long. Some nests have tubular entrances 30 to 40 cm long. Ovenbird nests are usually enclosed and provide protection from predators.

Clutch size ranges from two to five. The eggs are white, and some have a bluish, greenish or buff tinge. Eggs are laid on alternate days, and incubation lasts from 14 to 22 days. Chicks are altricial and fledge in 13 to 29 days; larger species have longer nestling periods than smaller species. After fledging, young may remain in their parent’s territory for up to 13 months, though they are often be able to feed themselves after 30 days. (Remsen, 2003; Roper and Hutson, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

Males and females have similar roles during breeding; both help build nests, incubate eggs, feed nestlings and fledglings and remove fecal sacks. Incubation lasts from 14 to 22 days. Chicks are altricial and fledge in 13 to 29 days; larger species have longer nestling periods than smaller species. After fledging, young may remain in their parent’s territory for up to 13 months even though they are often be able to feed themselves after 30 days. (Remsen, 2003; Roper and Hutson, 2003; Skutch, 1996)


There is no information about lifespan/longevity for ovenbirds. Annual adult survival has been estimated to be about 71 percent. (Remsen, 2003)


Some species of ovenbirds are migratory, others are sedentary. Birds living at high elevations may make altitudinal movements as seasons change. They are usually found in pairs. However, some species form mixed-species feeding flocks during the non-breeding season and may migrate in groups. They are territorial and defend their territories with song, wing flapping displays, feather fluffing, exposing bright throat patches and raising crown feathers. Territories range in size from 0.23 to 1 hectare.

Ovenbirds are diurnal. They sing most often at dawn, but will sing throughout the day. At night they roost in burrows, holes or nests. They have been seen sunning themselves and anting. (Remsen, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Most species of ovenbird sound similar. Their calls have been described as unmusical and harsh. Their calls are loud, but simple, and composed of buzzy notes of varying speeds that rise and fall in pitch. Pairs will sing in duets to defend territories and strengthen the pair-bond. Chicks use a begging call to solicit feeding by adults.

Ovenbirds have numerous displays that they use in attracting mates and defending territories. Displays include: exposing bright throat patches, raising crown feathers and lifting their wings to show their wingstripes. (Remsen, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • duets

Food Habits

Ovenbirds feed primarily on arthropods and other invertebrates. Their main insect prey include: Orthoptera (grasshoppers and relatives), Hymenoptera (they eat ants only within this group), Coleoptera (beetles) and larval Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Species that live in aquatic habitats will eat non-arthropod invertebrates such as mollusks and worms. Occasionally ovenbirds will eat small frogs, lizards, bird eggs, crabs, seeds and fruit.

Ovenbirds' bill shapes and sizes reflect the foraging habits of each species. Ovenbirds display a diversity of feeding strategies including: hanging upside-down to reach under leaves, probing, gleaning, wading in shallow water, looking for insects in bark and sifting through the leaf litter. Their tails are modified to help them climb trees in search of food (see Physical Description). Ovenbirds will use their feet to hold down their prey while they eat it. This behavior is uncommon among Passeriformes. (Remsen, 2003; Skutch, 1996)


Other than owls (family Strigidae), few predators of adult ovenbirds are known. Nest predators include: snakes (suborder Serpentes), Guira cuckoos (Guira guira), roadside hawks (Buteo magnirostris), black-chested buzzards (Geranoaetus melanoleucus) and opossums (family Didelphidae). Ovenbirds’ primary defense against nest predators is the design of their nests. Nests are often hidden in cavities or tunnels, or if they are exposed, they are protected by thorns or cacti. (Remsen, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

Ecosystem Roles

Other animals such as insects (for example beetles and social wasps), rodents, lizards, snakes, frogs and other birds use ovenbird nests for shelter or breeding. Ovenbirds themselves, however, do not usually re-use nests. Botfly larvae (Gasterophilidae) often attack nestlings as do other nest parasites (Hemiptera, Psammolestes, Triatoma and Acarina). Ovenbirds impact the populations of the prey species they eat. They are also hosts to introduced nest parasites, shiny cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis) (Remsen, 2003)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Ovenbirds eat insects that are crop pests in agricultural areas. They are also sought out by birdwatchers. (Remsen, 2003)

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Ovenbirds sometimes build nests on electrical poles and cause damage to electrical systems. (Remsen, 2003)

Conservation Status

Anthropogenic habitat destruction is the main threat to ovenbirds today. Deforestation, burning, grazing and increases in agriculture all reduce and fragment ovenbird habitat. Many ovenbird species have very narrow habitat requirements. These species are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction and fragmentation because they are not able to move to new habitat when theirs is destroyed. Currently the IUCN lists 3 species of ovenbird as “Critically Endangered”, 9 species as “Endangered”, 15 as “Vulnerable” and 18 as “Near Threatened”. Species that live in areas that are undesirable to humans (for example, high alpine habitats) are doing well and some species are able to adapt to moderate disturbance levels. Species that live in urban areas are also doing well and are extending their ranges as urban areas expand.

Ovenbirds are also suffering as a result of introduced species. House sparrows (Passer domesticus) take over their nest sites and shiny cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis) parasitize their nests. (IUCN, 2003; Remsen, 2003; Skutch, 1996)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

The name Furnariidae means “baker” and stems from the observation that the nests of some species of ovenbirds have an oven-like shape.


Alaine Camfield (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Dickinson, E. 2003. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, 3rd edition. London: Christopher Helm.

IUCN, 2003. "2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed March 23, 2004 at http://www.redlist.org/.

Payne, R. 2003. "Bird Families of the World" (On-line). Accessed March 23, 2004 at http://www.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/birds/Bird_Families_of_the_World.html.

Remsen, J. 2003. Family Furnariidae (Ovenbirds). Pp. 162-357 in J del Hoyo, A Elliott, D Christie, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Roper, J., A. Hutson. 2003. Ovenbirds. Pp. 438-441 in C Perrins, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sibley, C., J. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds, A study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Skutch, A. 1996. Antbirds & Ovenbirds, Their Lives and Homes. Austin: University of Texas Press.