Sunday, June 23, 2013

Eastern Towhee

A male eastern towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus, has reddish eyes and a long black tail. Head, back, and breast are black;  wings black with white streaks; belly white; sides rusty red. Click to enlarge. 
I always hear towhees before I see them. In spring, males sit conspicuously in treetops singing what birdwatchers think sounds like: "Drink your teeeeeeee!" The first note is sharp and the last is a musical trill. Click here to watch and listen to a towhee singing the famous towhee song. 

Or I hear them scratching in the underbrush. Getting a look at a foraging towhee is more challenging. They dig in leaf litter  to uncover food items, typically scratching with both feet while hopping backwards. They make a lot of noise, so I sometimes investigate the sound expecting rabbits or raccoons or some other large noisy thing. Towhees sometimes turn up insects that way, or millipedes or snails, all of which they will happily eat. They also eat seeds and fruit.

Eastern towhees are found in the eastern half of north america. In the northeast, we only see them in spring and summer when they come to nest. This pair were foraging in the open grass around Pakim Pond in the New Jersey pine barrens. I've seen them in Central Park in Manhattan, and many places in between.

A female eastern towhee is also about 7 inches long, with the same color pattern, but has brown feathers where the male has black. 

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