Birding…Eastern Towhee

This strikingly handsome bird with its clean, flashy colors has given the eastern towhee the nickname “Hollywood robin.” This large (8 ½ inches long) sparrow is boldly patterned and spends much of its time on the ground scratching among leaf litter, looking for food. The male has black upperparts and hood contrast with rufous sides and white underparts. In flight, the bird’s white wing and tail spots are noticeable. Female eastern towhees (see photo) replace the male’s black plumage areas with chocolate brown. Earlier this year while on a Spring-day hike in the Apple Valley area, I was fortunate enough to spot and photograph this female eastern towhee. FYI…I’ve also spotted the towhee in Morse Park Gardens.

Drink your TEA!” sings the towhee year-round throughout the brushy woodlands of North Carolina and the eastern United States. Towhees’ preference for thick cover and brushy habitat

make them harder to see than other common species. This is a very energetic bird and the loud scratching of a foraging towhee (sounds like an animal walking through dry leaves) can often be your first clue to a towhee’s presence.

Towhees eat just about anything found on the woodland floor, including insects, seeds, fruits, and even snails, spiders, and millipedes. They prefer to scratch the ground under feeding stations for mixed seeds, cracked corn, and sunflower seeds (which they crack with their powerful bill.)

Spring is probably the best time to find an eastern towhee. Male towhees are especially vocal during the breeding season and will leave the deep cover to ascend to a high perch in their territory to sing in a most pleasing and charismatic manner. Make your feeders much more attractive to towhees by adding a brush pile nearby to help these shy birds feel more at home.

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