Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the spotted towhee.
If you have some thick oakbrush or shrubby understory around your home or live at forest’s edge, chances are you’ve witnessed this large member of the sparrow family doing its token two-footed “backscoot.” This dance move, though showy, is all function as towhees work to scratch back leaf litter (and snow) to expose seed in fall/winter. You may notice them feeding alongside other ground-harvesters such as juncos, bushtits and fellow sparrows. Like an Oregon form of dark-eyed junco, spotted towhees have a dark hood, only blacker and with a red eye. What really differentiates them is their size among sparrows. They are quite rotund with rufous flanks, white breast and a distinctly long, black upright tail, visible as it hops to and from food sources. Further, they have distinct white spots on their backs, creating bars across their upper wings. In flight, outer tail feather corners are white. Juvenile birds are initially streaky in the classic sparrow vein, but can be identified by subtler wing bars, long tail and conical bill.
Come spring, during breeding season, these birds become more audibly noticeable. The males will move into visible high spots to sing their trill-heavy song to attract mates. Their single-note calls have been likened to a scratchy catlike mewwee. These are used for the purpose of harassing other birds and defending nesting territory as they compete for an increasing diversity of insects in spring/summer.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

This story was posted on February 3, 2019.