Living Bird Magazine
Canyon TowheeMelozone fusca
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
Canyon Towhees keep a low profile across their range in the Desert Southwest. These big, warm-brown sparrows are common on the ground and underneath shrubs in a variety of scrubby habitats, but they easily blend into the background. Look for a fairly long-legged, long-tailed sparrow that’s the same color as the dirt, with warm rusty brown under the tail. They look very similar to the widespread California Towhee (the two were once considered the same species), but their ranges don’t overlap.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Within their range, look for Canyon Towhees low in foliage or on the ground in arid, brushy environments as well as in yards. A rustling in the leaf litter may alert you to the presence of Canyon Towhees foraging with their double-scratch technique, or you may hear them calling from elevated perches on trees, fences, or roofs.
- Toquí Pardo (Spanish)
- Tohi des canyons (French)
Canyon Towhees like to feed on the ground and may also come to platform feeders. They are among the few birds that readily take milo (sorghum); they also eat millet and black-oil sunflower seeds. Landscaping your yard with low-growing, native shrubs and grasses will provide cover and possible nest sites for Canyon Towhees. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- Canyon Towhees are desert creatures and they pay attention to water supplies. They can nest twice a year, timing their attempts to coincide with winter and summer rains, which produce a flush of plant material and insects.
- Canyon Towhees’ seemingly simple songs contain lots of variation and have been well studied. In 1968, two scientists described this variation colorfully: “At its worst the song is a dull series of chips, but at its best it is a gay, sustained jingle to be compared with that of a titmouse. A male whose dawn singing has been dull and perfunctory during late winter and early spring will become transformed into a polished singer when his mate disappears to incubate….”
- Present-day Canyon Towhee and California Towhee were once considered the same species, named the Brown Towhee. Mitochondrial DNA, which traces genetic history along the mother’s gene line, provided evidence needed to split the two species.
- The oldest recorded Canyon Towhee was a male, and at least 7 years, 2 months old when he was recaught and rereleased during banding operations in Texas in 1998. He had been banded in the same state in 1992.