The Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) 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 Eastern Towhee is a large and striking species of sparrow. The total length ranges from 17.3 to 23 cm (6.8 to 9.1 in), and the wingspan is 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in). Adults have rufous sides, a white belly, and a long dark tail with white edges. The eyes are red, white for birds in the southeast. Males have a black head, upper body, and tail; these parts are brown in the female. Juveniles are brown overall. Eastern towhees of all ages and both sexes generally are unmistakable and are not known to co-exist with the similar Western Spotted Towhee. [Wikipedia]
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. [All About Birds]
Eastern Towhee Facts [All About Birds]
- 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 some 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.