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Spotted Towhee

spotted towhee

You often hear Spotted Towhees scratching on the ground under bushes. They are so loud you expect a large animal to emerge from the brush, but the bird is only 8 inches long. If it is curious about you, it will perch on a low branch and make a loud raspy call.

I learned their names as Rufous-sided Towhees, but years ago they were split from their Eastern cousin called an Eastern Towhee, which lacks spots.

Spotted Towhees are beautiful birds sporting an all-black back, wings, tail and head. They have a gorgeous red eye, rufous flanks and white under parts.

The wings show white spots and the outside tail feathers bear white tips that show during flight. The female looks the same as the male, but is duller.

Spotted Towhees are year-round residents. They are found in riparian thickets, chaparral, brushy edges of woodlands, and undergrowth. Because of their foraging habits, they are sometimes called Ground Robins. They feed by hopping back and forth on both feet, noisily scratching leaf litter for insects, spiders, seeds and berries.

In courtship the male chases the female, perches on low branches and spreads its tail to display its large white spots.

Their nest is a cup constructed of leaves, grass, and bark shreds. It is built on the ground or in low branches in a bush. The female incubates three or four creamy speckled eggs for a few weeks. The female leaves the nest and begins a second brood while the male feeds chicks. In summer, after breeding season, the whole family forages together.

First published June 1, 2013 MCAS Black Oystercatcher
Spotted Towhee photo by Becky Bowen