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Eastern Towhee - (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

August 24, 2009 - During this past summer we saw very little of the towhee compared to the frequent sightings of last year's summer months. Foraging among the vegetation probably was done under the tree lined edges of  our backyard. This year we had night visitors of skunks and opossums cleaning up the excess seed from the feeders. We did see  our first towhee of this year on April 29th.  It took 5 more sightings until we could capture our only pictures of the season; until now.  It was quite a  surprise to see our first juvenile towhee. His beautiful autumn coloring is perfect for hiding among the crisp brownish grass and leaves.

April 29, 2009 - The eastern towhee is back and as noisy as ever stirring around the yard edges.  His love for underbrush and leaf piles and his somewhat late in the day appearances make for a few photography challenges. But as a fellow bird person once said while waiting in a long line to purchase yet another bird gizmo, "Being patient is what we birders do".

While making the bed one morning last summer, I was startled to hear scratching noises and then tapping at the window.  In this '50's style home, that window was one of three small ones high in the north-facing wall.  As I looked up and out, a bird looked in.  Perceiving no threat from me, he continued to search through the dried leaves on the window sill.  After I had time to study his features and he had time to exhaust the hidden insect supply, he flew away and I flew to my bird books to put a name to him.

Of course, he was the Eastern Towhee.  I soon became familiar with the special hop and scratch he used in the vegetation  in the backyard.  By the end of summer he and his equally cute mate were gone.

I was happy to see the Towhees return this summer.  It's always a wonderful pleasure to see birds enjoying our yard as much as we do.

I believe it was at the end of July the Towhees left us. (the keeping of more accurate records is now being instituted). 

Taking pictures recently on September 5th and 8th at dusk, I was trying to capture some photos of the Cardinals and their young.  After enlarging the shots on the first day, I realized I had taken pictures (albeit blurry) of the female Eastern Towhee.  I believe she may have been migrating and stopped for a safflower seed snack.  I was really surprised the second day, after trying again for photos of the Cardinals, I actually enlarged shots of the male Towhee also.

This proved to me the merit of looking closely even at the most marginal pictures I might take.  An additional lesson was the importance of daily records of what we see in our yard using a simple check off list.  It's much more informative  and fun to know when our migrating and hibernating friends come and go. 


Length: 7.75-8.5 in

Weight: 1.4 oz Wingspan: 10-11 in


Male: Black hood and upperparts; long black tail with white outer feathers; white underparts; rufous or reddish brown sides; black wings have white patches; red eyes; short dark bill; pale red feet anisodactylous (three toes point forward and one toe points backward)
Female:Brown in areas that male is black
Juvenile: Light brown overall; heavily streaked head, upperparts and underparts; chin pale


Bushes, shrubs, thickets and undergrowth (especially forest edges or overgrown fields)


Insects, seeds, and fruit; ground feeder; noisy forager in the underbrush and piles of fallen leaves; bilateral scratching (hops backwards with both feet to uncover food and insects)

Family Behavior:

Mating Habits: Monogamous and solitary; 2 broods per year

Local Breeding Period: Late May
Nests:Cup-shape built on the ground camouflaged with twigs, grass, leaves and bark and lined with fine grass and animal hair; female builds
Eggs: 2-6 creamy white spotted with brown; female incubates 12-14 days
Nestlings: Born altricial (helpless, naked, eyes closed) and stay in nest 10-12 days; fed by both parents

Social Activities:



Eastern and mid west US; those in the northern states join the permanent residents of the southern states in the winter


Full song sounds like drink your tea (some shorten it to drink tea); last syllable is high and trilled; call toe-wheee or che-wink or wank

Lifespan: Up to 12 years

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