Living Bird Magazine
Abert's TowheeMelozone aberti
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
Matching its arid surroundings, the sandy brown Abert’s Towhee dwells in dense brush along rivers and streams of the Sonoran Desert. This large sparrow does not migrate, spending all year in the understory of cottonwood-willow forests and mesquite bosques (woodlands), as well as in some suburban landscapes. It’s closely related to the California and Canyon Towhees and shares those species’ rusty-red undertail, but a small blackish patch around the bill sets it apart, along with range differences.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Abert’s Towhees can be tricky to find deep within their brushy habitats, particularly when they are not singing. Males give their simple song during the breeding season, but this can be anytime from late winter through summer, depending on rainfall. Instead of listening for the song, learn the distinctive call notes, which they give throughout the year. Also look for them in suburban areas, where less cluttered habitats such as landscaped yards make them easier to see.
- Toquí de Abert (Spanish)
- Tohi d'Abert (French)
Bringing desert birds to the backyard is relatively easy: several water features, plenty of native plants, and clean feeding stations can bring quail, thrashers, woodpeckers, doves, and a nice array of sparrows, including Abert’s Towhee, to the yard. Homes that are very close to brushy streambeds lined with cottonwoods and willows have the best chances of attracting this species.
- Cool Facts
- Abert’s Towhees are sedentary birds that live out their lives in small, permanent territories. Even so, young birds do disperse after the breeding season, and sometimes turn up out of range. Individuals have recently been found in southern Sonora, Mexico, well outside of their known range.
- Abert's Towhee pairs generally remain bonded for life. This strong pair bond means they’re ready to go whenever environmental conditions are good for nesting. In the desert, that means they can take advantage of unpredictable rains that stimulate plant and insect activity.
- According to DNA analyses of the three brown towhees of the American Southwest, California and Abert's are the most closely related, even though California and Canyon towhees were once considered a single species.
- Abert's Towhee was named by Spencer Baird in 1852 for Lt. Col. James William Abert (1820–1897), a U.S. Army officer in the Topographical Engineers who obtained the first specimen during a survey of New Mexico at the end of the Mexican War.
- The oldest Abert's Towhee on record was a male, at least 8 years and 11 months old when he was recaptured and re-released during a banding operation in Arizona.