Towhees are usually shy sulkers and rush for cover at the slightest disturbance.
There are six species of Towhees in North America; Spotted, Eastern, Green-tailed, Canyon, Abert's and California. Only the Eastern Towhee is found east of the Mississippi River.
Towhees are members of the Sparrow Family.
Towhees are ground feeders and use a hop-and-scratch foraging method. While jumping forward with its head and tail up, it kicks its strong legs backwards to uncover its food. They use this same technique in the leaf litter on the forest floor or underneath feeders where the seeds are clearly visible.
In 1586 John White became the first European to discover and draw the Eastern Towhee. He had come to North Carolina as the governor of Sir Walter Raleigh's doomed colony on Roanoke Island.
The name "towhee," a simulation of the bird's call, was coined in 1731 by the naturalist and bird artist Mark Catesby.
The Eastern Towhee is sometimes called the "chewink" bird, in recognition of its call, and it is also known as the "ground robin" for its foraging habits.
The Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee were both named the Rufus-sided Towhee until 1995 when they were determined to be genetically separate species.
Banding studies have shown that Eastern Towhees can live more than 12 years in the wild, but an average lifespan is about four to six years.
Northern populations of the Eastern Towhee are migratory; southern populations are year-round residents.
Well hidden in thick cover, the nest of a towhee can be hard to find. Female towhees never land directly on it; instead they land away from the nest and walk through the thick brush to reach it.
Eastern Towhees raise two broods of three to four young each year. The female incubates the eggs for 12-13 days then both parents feed the young. The young birds fledge in 9-11 days and will stay with the parents for another month.
The typical Eastern Towhee has red eyes, but in Florida and southern Georgia a pale-eyed population exists that has light yellow eyes.
Eastern Towhees will eat peanuts, cracked corn, millet and sunflower seeds from a ground feeder that is placed near dense underbrush.
The Spotted Towhee is often heard before it is seen. It is a shy bird that spends much of its time noisily scratching for food in the dead leaves underneath dense brush.
Spotted Towhees can occasionally be seen lying down out in the open, sunning themselves with open wings and spread feathers.
The Spotted Towhee seems to be somewhat hardier than the Eastern Towhee, as it withstands lower temperatures.
Spotted Towhees raise one brood of three to five young each year. The female incubates the eggs for 12-14 days then both parents feed the young. The young birds fledge in 9-11 days and will stay with the parents for around 30 days.
About 30% of the Spotted Towhee's food is insects and the rest is seeds and berries.
Spencer Baird was the first person to describe the Abert's Towhee in 1852. He named it for Lt. James William Abert, a U.S. Army Topographical Engineer, who obtained the specimen during a survey of New Mexico.
Abert's Towhees average two successful broods a year despite living in a harsh hot and dry environment, but it may take as many as six nesting attempts to produce the two broods.
The Abert's Towhee has one of the smallest ranges of any U.S. bird species, being found only in the Colorado and Gila River Valleys of Arizona and parts of California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.
California Towhees aggressively defend their territories year-round and often battle their own reflections in windows, car mirrors and other reflective surfaces.
Male California Towhees will try to impress a female by approaching it with drooped and rapidly quivering wings.
The California Towhee was first named as a separate species in 1839. By 1886, it had been lumped in with the Canyon Towhee and both were re-named the Brown Towhee. In 1989, DNA studies once again separated the two species.
California Towhees are known to use the morning dew on plants as a source of water.
Female Green-tailed Towhees distract predators away from their nest by dropping straight down to the ground and running away in a mouse-like fashion.
Green-tailed Towhees are secretive birds that spend much of their time noisily scratching for food in the dead leaves underneath dense brush.
Unlike the other five species of North America towhees, the Green-tailed Towhee is the only towhee species that is completely migratory.