Eastern TowheePipilo erythrophthalmus

adult male
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult female
Rob Curtis/VIREO
juvenile
Johann Schumacher/VIREO
adult male
Greg Lasley/VIREO

Description

Sometimes secretive but often common, this bird may be noticed first by the sound of industrious scratching in the leaf-litter under dense thickets. In the nesting season, males become bolder, singing from high perches. In some areas this bird is commonly known as "Chewink," after the sound of its callnote. In parts of the Southeast and Florida, the towhees have white eyes.

Habitat

Open woods, undergrowth, brushy edges. Habitat varies with region, but always in brushy areas. In the Northeast, typically in understory of open woods.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, seeds, berries. Diet varies with season and region. Eats many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, caterpillars, moths, true bugs, ants, and many others, also spiders, snails, and millipedes. Rarely may eat small salamanders, lizards, or snakes. Also eats many seeds, plus acorns, berries, and small fruits.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, frequently scratching in the leaf-litter. Also sometimes forages up in shrubs and low trees.

Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing, often from a high perch. In courtship, male may give a soft "whispered" version of song, may chase female, or may rapidly spread tail to show off white spots. Nest site is on the ground under a shrub, or in low bushes, usually less than 5' above the ground. Nest (built by female) is an open cup of grass, twigs, weeds, rootlets, strips of bark, lined with finer materials, sometimes including animal hair. Eggs: 3-4, sometimes 5, rarely 2-6. Creamy white to very pale gray, with spots of brown often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, may remain with parents for some time thereafter. Often 2 broods per year, sometimes 3 in southern part of range.

Eggs

3-4, sometimes 5, rarely 2-6. Creamy white to very pale gray, with spots of brown often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, may remain with parents for some time thereafter. Often 2 broods per year, sometimes 3 in southern part of range.

Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, may remain with parents for some time thereafter. Often 2 broods per year, sometimes 3 in southern part of range.

Conservation

Population in northeast has declined seriously in recent decades. Elsewhere, numbers are probably stable.

Range

Many southern birds are permanent residents; most in the North are migratory.

Listen

nasal calls #2
five song types of one male
nasal calls #1
nasal calls #3
four song types of one male
classic song (drink your tea)
song variant
chip calls

Similar Species

adult male

American Robin

A very familiar bird over most of North America, running and hopping on lawns with upright stance, often nesting on porches and windowsills. The Robin's rich caroling is among the earliest bird songs heard at dawn in spring and summer, often beginning just before first light. In fall and winter, robins may gather by the hundreds in roaming flocks, concentrating at sources of food.

adult male, interior

Spotted Towhee

A widespread towhee of the West, sometimes abundant in chaparral and on brushy mountain slopes. For many years it was considered to belong to the same species as the unspotted Eastern Towhees found east of the Great Plains, under the name of Rufous-sided Towhee. The Spotted Towhee differs in the heavy white spotting on its upperparts, and its songs and callnotes are more variable and much harsher in tone. It often is first noticed because of the sound of its industrious scratching in the leaf-litter under dense thickets.

adult male, breeding

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

In leafy woodlands of the East, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak often stays out of sight among the treetops. However, its song -- rich whistled phrases, like an improved version of the American Robin's voice -- is heard frequently in spring and summer. Where the range of this species overlaps with that of the Black-headed Grosbeak on the Great Plains, the two sometimes interbreed.

adult male

Black-headed Grosbeak

In foothills and riverside woods of the West, this species is often very common as a nesting bird. In mid-summer, the oak woodlands often resound with the insistent whining whistle of young Black-headed Grosbeaks begging for food. This is among few birds able to eat Monarch butterflies, despite the noxious chemicals those insects contain from eating milkweeds in the larval stage; in Mexico in winter, the grosbeaks eat large numbers of Monarchs.

adult male

Orchard Oriole

Most common in the Midwest and South is this small oriole. It favors open areas with scattered groves of trees, so human activities may have helped it in some areas, opening up the eastern woodlands and planting groves of trees on the prairies. Orchard Orioles often gather in flocks during migration. The black-throated young male, sitting alone in a treetop and singing his jumbled song, is often confusing to beginning birders.

adult male

Brambling

A common finch of Europe and Asia, the Brambling appears regularly in small numbers in Alaska during migration, straying the short distance across the Bering Sea. Some of those that stray across in autumn apparently then continue south on the American side, and there have been winter records for numerous states and provinces east to the Atlantic Coast and south to Colorado. Many of these vagrant Bramblings have been found visiting bird feeders.

Vireo

iPad Promo