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 green-tailed towhee.

In summer, this large, long-tailed sparrow breeds in shrubby habitats from low sagebrush regions up to brushy mountain slopes across the middle of the western United States. Species-rich shrub communities provide the dense cover where this bird spends its time and builds its nest. Unlike the related spotted towhee, which stays here year-round, the green-tailed winters in far southwestern extremes of the United States and in Mexico.

Soon after arriving on their breeding grounds, males defend a nesting territory by perching on top of a shrub and singing a loud song of whistles and raspy trills. This is the easiest time to locate this otherwise secretive bird. A variety of calls are used between pair members to communicate alarm and in courtship. Mewing calls are made to stay in contact when they are foraging or in flight and when the female is away from the nest.

Their nests are so well-concealed low in dense vegetation that knowledge of their nesting behavior is not well-known. If the female senses an intruder, she may distract a predator by scurrying away from the nest with tail held straight up in imitation of a rodent.

Both adult sexes are gray colored with olive-yellow tones on their wings, back and tail. They sport a bright rufous head cap and have a white throat outlined by dark mustache stripes. Juveniles are streaky and brown but also show greenish tones in their wings and tail. They forage on the ground for seeds and insects using the double-scratch hop typical of towhees.

Forest fires that are followed by shrubby regrowth provide good habitat for green-tailed towhees, as does directed habitat management for other shrub obligate birds like the greater sage grouse, sage thrasher, Brewer’s sparrow, gray flycatcher and pygmy rabbit.

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