Saturday, February 28, 2015

Eastern Towhee

Eastern towhee giving me the red eye.
Last week we had a new arrival on the deck below our bird feeders.  As the prolonged cold preserved the snow covering the ground, an eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) gave up on the shrub land along the creek and grudgingly visited civilization.  They are omnivorous, seeking out insects as well as seeds and small fruits and drupes in season, a diet hidden in the snow.

"... and don't forget to floss."
Unlike the adage about children, this towhee is commonly heard but not seen.  A denizen of low-lying shrubs and disturbed areas, it digs quietly in the leaf litter, usually keeping below 3 feet.  Moving quickly, the best view is usually a quick flash of orange. 

On the other hand they are quite talkative and you are more likely to hear one before you can find it in the bush.  Their call is one that even I can remember, the famous "Drink-your-tea" heard here.  Flitting around in the brush, they communicate with a shorter nasal "shewink" call.

Managing a woodland or tree farm for wildlife requires promoting diverse habitat.  An example of the effect land management can have on a species is in this Wikipedia quote.  "In a southern Missouri oak-hickory forest, eastern towhees were not present before clear cutting or in the nearby uncut forest after cutting, but occurred at a mean density of 9.3 birds/24 acres in a 3-year-old clearcut."  This doesn't mean we should clearcut, but it is important to maintain disturbed areas and edges for some species to thrive.

"It won't show in the snow."
Birders frequently have a mental library of bird songs, allowing them to identify a bird by sound alone.  This talent has so far escaped me, but then my wife says I don't listen to her either.  Birders frequently describe calls and songs in memorable phrases such as the "Drink-your-tea" above.  These are called "mnemonics" and a long listing of these are found at fernbank.edu.  A good example is the familiar call of the northern cardinal, described as "What-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer."

There are extensive studies on every aspect of the eastern towhee's life, many of which are summarized in this long entry in Wikipedia.

No comments:

Post a Comment