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Ovenbirds are 200 species of birds that compose the rather large family Furnariidae, occurring from southern Mexico through Central and all of South America. Ovenbirds occur in a wide variety of habitats, ranging from mature tropical forests to semi-desert, and from coastal lowlands to alpine tundra. In other words, the ovenbird family is very rich in species, and these birds successfully exploit almost all of the habitable ecosystems within their major range.

Many species of ovenbirds build a characteristic, dome-shaped nest of clay, which resembles an old-style, wood-fired bakers' oven, and is the basis of the common name of this group of birds. Depending on the species, the nest can be located on a horizontal branch of a tree, on a post, or on the ground. The nest is constructed of mud, with plant fibers mixed in for greater strength. These materials are carried in the bill. The dome is about 12 in (30 cm) in diameter, can weigh about 9 lb (4 kg), and is kiln-like in shape, with a deep, narrow entrance. There is an inner, walled-off, nesting chamber, lined with grasses. Although old nests physically last for several years, ovenbirds construct a new structure for each brood.

Some species of ovenbirds nest in an underground burrow or in a tree cavity. The rufous-fronted thornbird (Phacellodomus rufifrons) builds bulky, communal nests out of thorny twigs in trees, with each pair having a separate entrance and nesting cavity.

Ovenbirds are small, plainly colored, olive green or brown birds, with a lighter, often streaked belly. Most species have a light-colored throat and a white line over the eye. A few species have very long tail feathers, as much as several times the length of the body. The sexes do not differ in size or coloration.

Ovenbirds are insectivorous, eating a wide diversity of invertebrates. Depending on the species, these may be gleaned from the ground, rocks, woody debris, foliage, or other microhabitats. Some coastal species of Cinclodes even forage in the intertidal zone at low tide, a unique strategy among the passerine, or perching birds.

Five eggs are typically laid, and are incubated by both parents, which also share the raising of the young birds.

One of the most widespread and familiar species is the red ovenbird or baker (Furnarius rufus). The nest of this species is commonly built on the top of a post. The pair sings duets, while sitting on the top of their oven.

A species of ground-inhabiting wood warbler (family Parulidae) of North America builds a dome-topped nest, and is also commonly known as an ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus). However, this species is not related to the true ovenbirds, of the family Furnariidae.

Bill Freedman

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Octadecanoate to Ovenbirds