My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus

The Eastern Towhee is a large New World sparrow. The taxonomy of the towhees has been under debate in recent decades, and formerly this bird and the Spotted Towhee were considered a single species, the Rufous-sided Towhee.

Their breeding habitat is brushy areas across eastern North America. They nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States. There has been one record of this species as a vagrant to western Europe; a single bird in Great Britain in 1966.

The song is a short Drink your teeeeea lasting around one second, starting with a sharp call (“drink!”) and ending with a short trill “teeeeea”. The name “towhee” is a onomatopoeic description of one of the towhee’s most common calls, a short two-part call rising in pitch and sometimes also called a “chewink” call.

The eastern towhee occurs throughout the eastern United States and south-east Canada. Occurrences from southern Saskatchewan, South-west Ontario and Quebec south to Florida, and west to eastern Texas are noted in a literature review. Populations north of southern New England through northern Indiana and Illinois to southern Iowa are primarily summer residents.

Eastern towhees primarily eat on the ground, although they also glean from vegetation. Eastern towhees eat a variety of plant and animal matter. They eat seeds and fruits, several invertebrates, and occasionally small amphibians, snakes, and lizards. Insects such as beetles, grasshoppers and crickets, ants, wasps, bees, and moths and caterpillars are common prey items. Eastern towhees eat other invertebrates such as spiders , millipedes, centipedes, and snails to a lesser extent. Plants that comprise at least 5% of the eastern towhee diet include ragweed, oak, smartweed, and corn in the Northeast and blackberry, oak, ragweed, and wax-myrtle in the Southeast.

Look for Eastern Towhees in brush, tangles, thickets, and along forest edges where there’s plenty of leaf litter for the birds to forage in.

On to my photos:

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Female eastern towhee

Female eastern towhee

This is number 88 in my photo life list, only 262 to go!

Yahoo! I have made it 1/4 of the way through the Audubon Society list that I am working from!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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23 responses

  1. Another pretty one!

    April 18, 2013 at 6:11 am

    • Thanks Allen.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:16 am

  2. So they renamed the towhees? We used to get the Towhee Formerly Known as Rufous in our L.A. yard and it did seem less red than this one. They are charming birds, whatever you wanna call ’em. So cute as they jump/dig through the underbrush for dinner. Thx for sharing these!

    April 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

    • Thank you! There are too many scientists with too much time on their hands, so they’re going around renaming many species of birds, just to confuse us.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:03 am

      • Actually they are finding through DNA that many animals, birds and plants weren’t classified correctly to begin with. It’s a bit confusing now but in the end it will make much more sense.

        April 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      • Thanks. I know that, it’s just that it seems so wrong when the name that you called a species for 50 years is suddenly incorrect.

        April 18, 2013 at 10:23 pm

  3. I really love the colors and composition of the last photo. The blurriness in the background is wonderful and the bird’s head turned away adds to the mystery.

    April 18, 2013 at 10:00 am

    • Thanks, but I wish that it had been intentional on my part. That was the best that my old Nikon could do. Once I get better with my new stuff, I’ll be able to duplicate that, when I want to. 😉

      April 18, 2013 at 10:08 am

  4. I just shot some pretty nice pics of a male right outside my front window this week! I didn’t realize they had been renamed. Thanks for the info!

    April 18, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    • Thank you! I’m finding that the names that I learned for many species of birds no longer apply, I learning all kinds of new stuff.

      April 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm

  5. Congratulations on your 25%

    April 18, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    • Thank you! There’s still a long way to go, but at least it looks like I’ve accomplished something.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:22 pm

  6. Great photos! Haven’t seen one yet this year here, although we are in the middle of a snowstorm today!

    April 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    • Thanks, they will be there soon!

      April 18, 2013 at 10:23 pm

  7. I really should point my daughter to your blog (have I told you this six times before?) She’s attending birding classes in NYC starting next weekend. Lovely photos.

    April 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    • Well, you’ve told me that a few times, but I haven’t been keeping count, should I? 😉

      My photos may not be the greatest, but I’m finding photography an invaluable tool for birding. I can shoot photos, then take my time to make a positive ID while checking the field guides, and not rely on my fading memories of what the birds really looked like when I saw them.

      April 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm

      • I’ll probably tell you six more times. Will you be kind? Keep reminding me that you already know in a soothing tone. I am memory challenged. On another note, the bird feeder is filled with hungry birds today. Seeking shelter in yet another snowstorm…

        April 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      • It’s been snowing here today, but not sticking, I didn’t think that I would say this after this winter, but the snow is better than all the rain we’ve had the last two weeks. There’s flooding everywhere down here.

        April 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

  8. A familiar friend, the Eastern towhee used to remind me to drink my tea as I wandered through the woods. now the Western towhee is a handsome feeder bird, even though I’m 3 stories up. But he still sticks to the ground – the deck floor – not the feeder!.

    April 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    • Thanks, you’ve summed them up very well!

      April 20, 2013 at 2:58 am

  9. Huh, I’ve never seen a female towhee. These are one of my most favorite birds as they look so cool Wonderful captures Jerry.

    April 23, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    • The females look almost like the males, except brown where the males are black. And, you seldom see the females off the ground.

      April 24, 2013 at 2:17 am

    • The females look almost like the males, except brown where the males are black. And, you seldom see the females off the ground.

      April 24, 2013 at 2:17 am