Seiurus aurocapilla aurocapilla, S. a. cinereus

Status:  Fairly common regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Fairly common regular breeder north and east.

Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM6885, May 1900 Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  Three subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997): cinereus, breeding in the Rocky Mountains from southern Alberta to Colorado and Nebraska, aurocapilla, breeding from eastern British Columbia to Nova Scotia and Georgia, and furvior, breeding on Newfoundland.

Subspecies cinereus breeds in the Panhandle, and as far east as “central Nebraska (Camp Sheridan)” (AOU 1957).  This locality is in extreme northwest Sheridan Co, some 19 kilometers (12 miles) south of the White River. Tordoff collected a singing male in Sioux Co on 19 Jul 1957, a specimen determined to be cinereus (Ford 1959).

Birds breeding in the Missouri and eastern Niobrara River Valleys are aurocapilla (AOU 1957); data in Mollhoff (2011, 2016) show breeding reports westward in the Niobrara River Valley to central Cherry Co.

Spring:  Apr 22,23,24 <<<>>> Jun 6,7,7

Migration is from late Apr through late May, the latter dates in areas where breeding does not occur. There are later dates 9 Jun 2017 Saunders Co and 14 Jun 2019 Scotts Bluff Co.

  • High counts:  58 in Sarpy Co 11 May 1996, including 44 at Fontenelle Forest, 14 at Indian Cave SP, Nemaha and Richardson Cos 14 May 2006, 14 at Fontenelle Forest 14 May 2016, and 14 at Schramm Park SRA, Sarpy Co 15 May 2020.

Summer: This species breeds in mature oak-hickory woodlands associated with upland bluffs of the Missouri and Niobrara River Valleys and in deciduous woodlands in the canyons of the Pine Ridge.  It is also found in appropriate oak-hickory habitat associated with the lower Elkhorn River and the Platte River in Douglas and Sarpy Cos.  Ovenbirds do not occur in riparian forests except during migration.

On the Pine Ridge, Mollhoff (2001) showed breeding reports only in Sioux and Dawes Cos, but by 2016 (Mollhoff 2016), breeding was confirmed in northwest Sheridan Co, suggesting eastward expansion of the Pine Ridge range.  Rosche (1982) described Ovenbird as a “fairly common summer resident,” breeding in Sioux and Dawes Cos.  Although it is usually accepted that Ovenbird requires rather extensive woodland for breeding, the western race cinereus, breeding on the Pine Ridge, may be adapted to woodlands of sharply limited extent. Andrews and Righter (1992) noted that in Colorado it breeds in “foothill riparian thickets.”  One summered in such habitat at Wind Springs Ranch, southern Sioux Co, in 2010, although no evidence of breeding was noted.

Elsewhere, Ovenbirds are found in summer in the Missouri and Niobrara River Valleys.  Ovenbirds breed throughout the Missouri River Valley in appropriate habitat. There are a few breeding season reports near the Missouri River Valley in the southeast with no breeding evidence: 6 Jun 2015 Wilderness Park, Lancaster Co, 11 Jun 2012 Platte River SP, Cass Co, Homestead NM, Gage Co of two on 23 Jun 2010  and three on 17 Aug 2016, and at Rock Creek SRA, Jefferson Co 1 Jul 2017.

Westward along the eastern Niobrara River Valley, Brogie and Mossman (1983) found numerous singing males and territorial birds in the Niobrara Valley Preserve in 1982 and considered the species a “probable nester.”  There are several summer reports for these counties as well as Holt and Cherry Cos. Mollhoff (2001) showed breeding reports west to central Cherry Co; by 2016 (Mollhoff 2016), the range limit was unchanged although there were more westerly reports. Recent additional reports from that area are of four at Anderson Bridge WMA 19 Jun 2014 and one at the Road 16F river crossing 14 Jun 2016. The only report shown by Mollhoff (2016) between central Cherry Co and the Pine Ridge along the Niobrara River Valley was a single “Possible” report along the Niobrara River in eastern Sheridan Co. Presumably, due to its location, this report is assignable to eastern aurocapilla.

There is no evidence for breeding in the Platte (Tout 1947, Short 1961), or Republican drainages, although there are several suggestive breeding season reports for the Loup and Platte Valleys. It should be noted that fall movement begins mid-Jul, at which time migrants are found in areas where breeding is not known to occur (see Fall).

In the Loup drainage there are recent summer reports of good numbers at NNF Bessey, including careful counts 4 Jul 2015 which tallied 11 birds, seven there 18 Jun 2014, and eight on 29 May 2017. One was there 16 Jun 2019, and 1-2 at each of three locations there 2 Jun-12 Jul 2020. There is a previous report there 30 Jun-2 Jul 1993 (Bray 1994). Breeding has not been confirmed there, however. Elsewhere in the Loup River drainage, one was in Garfield Co 11 Jun 2011.

In the Platte River Valley, there are several records in the Keith Co area; Rosche (1994) cited reports from Garden-Keith Cos including one on 15 Jul, and Brown et al (1996) noted that while there was no evidence for nesting in the Lake Ogallala area, 12 birds had been netted there 2 Jul-7 Aug, all with brood patches. Brown and Brown (2001) reported one on 29 Jun (year not given) in the Keith Co area, and one was at Lake Ogallala 16 Jul 2016. There are several summer records of singing male(s) at or near Chester Island WMA, Lincoln Co, including five records 17 May-13 Jun 2009, 19 May 2011, 15 Jul 2012, two on 1 Jul 2013, and two on 1 Jul 2014. A singing bird was in Merrick Co 19 Jun 2002, and two were near Schuyler along the Platte River in Saunders Co 16 Jun.

Since breeding is unknown in the Republican River Valley, singles near Red Cloud, Webster Co 21 Jun 2017 and in Nuckolls Co 9 Jul 2018 were unexpected.

  • Breeding phenology:
    Eggs: 1-14 Jun
    Nestlings: 1-18 Jun
  • High counts:  200 in the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Brown Co 17 Jun 1995, and 40 there 28 Jun 1997.

Fall:  Jul 14,16,16 <<<>>> Oct 10,11,11

Early dates above are away from known breeding areas. Migration peaks in late Aug and early Sep, but there are several reports beginning mid-Jul from areas where breeding is not known, including one in Jefferson Co 6 Jul 2020. According to Porneluzi et al (2020), “In Michigan, adults leave the breeding area as soon as the young can care for themselves. Immature birds remain on the breeding grounds until late September”. This suggests that mid to late Jul reports in Nebraska from locations where breeding is unknown are probably of adults leaving the breeding range when young are independent. Time from egg laying to independence in Michigan indicates that adults would begin leaving around 20 Jul (Porneluzi et al 2020).

Migration ends by early Oct, although there are later reports 23 Oct 2005 Elkhorn, Douglas Co, 23 Oct 2013 Lancaster Co, 26 Oct 1991 McPherson Co (Grzybowski 1992) and 11 Nov 2000 Lincoln, Lancaster Co (Jorgensen 2002).

  • High counts:  5 at Lake Ogallala 26 Aug and 3 Sep 2006, 5 at Chadron SP, Dawes Co 29 Aug 2017, and 3 at Homestead NM, Gage Co 17 Aug 2016.


NNF: Nebraska National Forest
NM: National Monument
SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)


Photograph (top) of an Ovenbird at Papillion, Sarpy Co 12 May 2018 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds.  Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado, USA.

American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1957. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 5th ed.  Port City Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Bray, T.E., B.K. Padelford, and W.R. Silcock. 1986. The birds of Nebraska: A critically evaluated list. Published by the authors, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA.

Brogie, M.A., and M.J. Mossman. 1983. Spring and summer birds of the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska: An annotated checklist. NBR 51: 44-51.

Brown, C.R., M.B. Brown, P.A. Johnsgard, J. Kren, and W.C. Scharf. 1996. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station area, Keith and Garden Counties, Nebraska: Seasonal occurrence and breeding data. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 23: 91-108.

Brown, C.R., and M.B. Brown. 2001. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station. Occasional Papers of the Cedar Point Biological Station, No. 1.

Ford, N.L. 1959. Notes on summer birds of western Nebraska. NBR 27: 6-12.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1992. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 46: 113-117.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2002. 2002 (sic; =2000). (12th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 70: 84-90. Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Porneluzi, P., M.A. Van Horn, and T.M. Donovan. 2020. Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.ovenbi1.01.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Short, L.L., Jr. 1961. Notes on bird distribution in the central Plains. NBR 29: 2-22.

Tout, W. 1947. Lincoln County birds. Published by the author, North Platte, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2020.  Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 1 Sep 2020