Eastern Towhee

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, the eastern towhee. Once again, a bird that has a close relative that it used to be lumped in with as one species. Sensing a trend in bird taxonomy? I told you it was a thing. The eastern towhee looks very similar to its western cousin, the spotted towhee. They used to be one species known as the rufous-sided towhee. One of the reasons for this trend of species being split into separate species, one in the east and one in the west, is the ice age. North America used to be covered in a large ice sheet that split the continent down the middle, separating numerous species, causing them to evolve separately. After the ice sheet melted, the species were able to once again intermingle. Some of these species evolved enough to no longer be able to interbreed. The eastern and spotted towhees can and do, on occasion, interbreed in a small section of the Great Plains.

Eastern Towhee Female
Eastern towhee female, Central Park, NY

In terms of looks, I always think of the eastern towhee as if a sparrow and a robin had a kid. They are in fact sparrows, and are only slightly smaller than a robin. Black above (or dark brown for females) rusty red flanks and white belly. They are actually pretty cool looking birds. They have a beautiful song that many ascribe the mnemonic “Drink your tea!” I think it kind of sounds like a discount wood thrush lol.

Eastern Towhee male 4
Eastern Towhee, Central Park, NY

Eastern towhees are common in the eastern U.S. and are only found in small areas of extreme southern Canada. They are common victims of brood parasites like the brown-headed cowbird. Unlike some birds, they can’t recognize the cowbird eggs in their nests. Eastern towhees, because of their coloration, always make me think (hope?) they’re something else at first, like an orchard oriole. Not that seeing an eastern towhee is a let down in any way. Well, can you believe it? July is in the books! Come on back next time when we kick off August with the aforementioned brown-headed cowbird! I’ll even explain what a brood parasite is, for those of you that are unclear. See you then!

Eastern Towhee2
Eastern Towhee, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Jamaica, NY

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