By Russ Chappell
Spotted Towhee are large, energetic, colorful sparrows with stocky bodies, fan-shaped tail, and thick beaks that are commonly found in shrubby habitats and thick underbrush, as well as backyards and feeders. The adult’s wingspan is more than 10 inches and they weigh close to 1-and-a-half ounces. The male displays a brilliant black head, throat, and back combined with rufous sides and a white belly, while the female’s markings are similar, save for a brownish color replacing the brilliant black of the male. Wings and backs are speckled with white markings and their bright red eyes are intense. In flight you’ll see white corners on their tails.
Ground feeders, Towhee generally hop along, scratching with both feet in a backward fashion to uncover seeds and small invertebrates, but may also climb into lower branches to feed on insects and fruits, or issue cat like calls, scolding, or communication with their mate. During the spring breeding season, the male Spotted Towhee spends the majority of the morning singing to attract a mate, but once a mate is located, singing becomes less frequent and they, instead, focus on food.
The female Towhee builds a nest with dry leaves, stems, and bark, lining it with grass, pine needles and hair. Nests are often located in a depression on the ground and are about 4-and-a-half inches across, although nests may be constructed as high as 12 feet in thick brush. Ground based nests are concealed with clumps of grass, built under shrubs, or possibly in a fallen log.
The female lays two to six eggs approximately 1 inch in length, with an incubation period of 12 or 13 days. The chicks are born helpless and naked with small tufts of down and their eyes closed. Within 12 days, they leave the nest but cannot fly for another six days. In the interim, the mother will feign injury to draw predators away from her young.
A year-round Prescott resident, this is a beautiful and lively bird you can count on to bring entertainment to your backyard feeder — especially during the mating season.
Russ Chappell is a retired helicopter pilot and board member of the Prescott Audubon Society who manages the group’s website and enjoys photographing the numerous birds that visit his office bird feeder.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.