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Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Eastern Towhee Photo

A strikingly marked, oversized sparrow of the East, feathered in bold black and warm reddish-browns – if you can get a clear look at it. Eastern Towhees are birds of the undergrowth, where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size. Their chewink calls let you know how common they are, but many of your sightings end up mere glimpses through tangles of little stems.

ML Essential Set
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

Songs

  • Song
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The classic Eastern Towhee song, given by males, is a loud drink-your-tea! lasting about 1 second. The first note (drink) is sharp and metallic, and the final note (tea) is a musical trill. Sometimes the song will start with more than one drink.

Calls

  • Song, calls
  • Call
  • Males calling in a territorial dispute
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The most common call is a two-parted, rising chewink, tow-hee, or joree, made by both sexes, often as an alarm call. This call can vary in tone geographically from clear whistles to hoarse or nasal sounds. Towhees make several other calls, including a high-pitched, quiet, lisping call for staying in contact, and a sharp tic when mobbing or fleeing predators.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Eastern Towhees are likely to visit – or perhaps live in – your yard if you’ve got brushy, shrubby, or overgrown borders. If your feeders are near a vegetated edge, towhees may venture out to eat fallen seed.

Find This Bird

Walk slowly along the edges of forests, thickets, and old fields. Listen carefully for the Eastern Towhee’s scratchy chewink call, its bright song, or simply any rustling the bird makes in dry leaves. Then lower your eyes to ground level and scan the leaf litter, looking for a scratching towhee or the bright white corners of the bird flashing its tail at you.

Get Involved

Watch for Eastern Towhees foraging for fallen seeds under your bird feeders – then send us your observations as part of Project FeederWatch

Learn more about bird photography in our Building Skills section. Then contribute your images to the Birdshare flickr site, which helps supply the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's websites with photos, including All About Birds.

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Eastern Towhee from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1968)

Find in-depth information on Eastern Towhees and other hundreds of other birds for as little as $5 in The Birds of North America Online from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists' Union