Bird of the Month: Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee maleFun Facts About Eastern Towhees

There are six species of Towhees in North America; Spotted, Eastern, Green-tailed, Canyon, Abert’s and California. Only the Eastern Towhee is found east of the Mississippi River.

Towhees are members of the Emberizidae family, along with our native sparrows (Juncos, Song Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, etc.)

In 1586 John White became the first European to discover and draw the Eastern Towhee. He had come to North Carolina as the governor of Sir Walter Raleigh's doomed colony on Roanoke Island. The name "towhee," a simulation of the bird's call, was coined in 1731 by the naturalist and bird artist, Mark Catesby.

Towhees are usually shy sulkers and rush for cover at the slightest disturbance.

The male Eastern Towhee is strikingly colored: bold sooty black above and on the breast, with warm rufous sides and white on the belly. Females have the same pattern, but are rich brown where the males are black.

Besides the 'towhee' or 'chewink' calls, male Eastern Towhees sing a distinctive song that sounds like 'drink your teeea'. Listen to the calls and songs of Eastern Towhees HERE!

Towhees are ground feeders and use a hop-and-scratch foraging method. While jumping forward with its head and tail up, it kicks its strong legs backwards to uncover its food in the leaf litter on the forest floor or underneath feeders where the seeds are clearly visible.

The Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee were both named the Rufous-sided Towhee until 1995 when they were determined to be genetically separate species. They may interbreed where their ranges overlap.

Northern populations of the Eastern Towhee are migratory; southern populations are year-round residents.

Eastern Towhee femaleEastern Towhees have a varied diet, including insects and other small invertebrates, soft leaf and flower buds, various seeds, acorns, and berries.

The oldest known Eastern Towhee living in the wild was recorded to be 12 years, 3 months old.

Towhees will visit backyards where there are shrubs or brush along open lawns. They may be seen scratching through the leaf litter for insects and seeds. They may also feed on the ground underneath your feeders, picking up sunflower and white millet seeds.