- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Toquí Flanquirrufo (Spanish)
- Tohi à flancs roux (French)
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.
This species often comes to bird feeders. 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
- The Eastern Towhee and the very similar Spotted Towhee of western North America used to be considered the same species, the Rufous-sided Towhee. The two forms still occur together in the Great Plains, where they sometimes interbreed. This is a common evolutionary pattern in North American birds – a holdover from when the great ice sheets split the continent down the middle, isolating birds into eastern and western populations that eventually became new species.
- Eastern Towhees are common victims of the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird. Female cowbirds lay eggs in towhee nests, then leave the birds to raise their cowbird young. In some areas cowbirds lay eggs in more than half of all towhee nests. Towhees, unlike some other birds, show no ability to recognize or remove the imposter’s eggs. Female cowbirds typically take out a towhee egg when laying their own, making the swap still harder to notice.
- Eastern Towhees tend to be pretty solitary, and they use a number of threat displays to tell other towhees they’re not welcome. You may see contentious males lift, spread, or droop one or both wings, fan their tails, or flick their tails to show off the white spots at the corners. Studies have shown that male towhees tend to defend territories many times larger than needed simply to provide food.
- The oldest known Eastern Towhee was a male in South Carolina, and at least 12 years, 3 months old.