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Canyon Towhee

Melozone fusca ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.

Songs

A typical Canyon Towhee song consists of 6-8 repeated, two-parted syllables, sounding like chili-chili-chili, lasting 1–2 seconds and often introduced by a call note. Within this basic structure there are many variations in the pattern and tempo.

Calls

The typical Canyon Towhee call note is a low-pitched, two-parted she-dup. Mated pairs also make a high, thin seep note to stay in touch with each other or in alarm, and nestlings that hear this note go quiet. A foraging pair periodically comes together and exchanges a string of these seep notes while facing each other, bobbing their heads, and fluffing feathers.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

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.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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