Beak of the Week – Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Family: Passerellidae

Some believe that this week’s Beak of the Week sounds like it’s singing “drink your tea.” The male Eastern Towhee has a black upper body, wings, rump and tail, two white tail spots, white belly, and rufous flanks. Female Eastern Towhees have brown upper bodies, rumps, wings, and tails instead of black ones, and lack tail spots. 

This handsome bird has recently been spotted in Chambers, Harris, and Galveston Counties. Eastern Towhees winter in East Texas. You will often find them hopping around on the ground, and in shrubs looking for arthropods, snails, seeds, fruits, and soft, new leaves and buds. These birds are very methodical when foraging for food. They take their time looking for food, will scrape at the leaf litter, hop backwards, and then rush in to snatch their prey. Because they forage in shrubs and leaf litter on the ground, Eastern Towhees prefer habitat with dense undergrowth, and plenty of leaves, such as forest edges, and abandoned fields. They can also be found in the Appalachian Mountains at elevations below 6,000 feet.

Eastern Towhees are known to be a rather antisocial species. Towhees will often threaten other towhees who venture too close. Males will flash their white tail spots to scare off other males from their territories. They are just as unwelcoming to females as they are to males, at least at first. Male Eastern Towhees take a few days to warm up to females, eventually becoming inseparable companions. As the sole nest builders, female Eastern Towhees will build their nests in leaf litter on the ground. Sometimes, however, they will build their nests in vine tangles a few feet off of the ground.

By Sarah Lefoley, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
📸 Photos by Greg Lavaty

Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds!

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