EASTERN TOWHEE – (Pipilo erythrophtalmus)
The Eastern Towhee is a large robin-like sparrow, measuring aroung 22 cm (9 in.) long. The head, throat, conical bill, upper body and tail are black in the male. The black throat has a ‘V’ shape. The tail and wings have white markings, visible in flight. The under parts are white, with rufous sides. The eyes are dark red and the legs are pink. In females and immatures the black is replaced with brown, and they have less white markings on the wings.
The English name ‘Towhee’ is an onomatopoeia for one of the bird’s calls. The Latin genus name ‘Pipilo’ means ‘to chirp’, and the species name ‘erythrophtalmus’ is Greek for ‘red eye’. However that species has white eyes in its southeast range.
The habitat of that towhee includes forest edges or wherever there are dense thickets of shrubs where it forages, scratching the leaf litter (the more litter the better) for anything hiding in there – insects, arthropods, seeds, snails, etc. They will also feed on berries when available. They hop rather than walk, and when scratching they use their two legs at once. They can be attracted to bird feeders for seeds.
The eastern towhee builds its nest on or near the ground. If on the ground it is camouflaged in leaf litter up to the cup rim.
The eastern towhee does not breed on PEI, and sightings of this bird on the island are listed as ‘occasional’, ‘rare’ or ‘accidental’ depending on the seasons. Its breeding range covers the eastern side of the USA and tiny southern parts of the Canadian provinces east from Manitoba. It is a year-round resident in the south eastern USA.
Conservation: there has been some decline in the population as more development is encroaching on suitable habitat for the eastern towhee, but not to the point where it would be a species of concern. One way to attract it is by having some dense shrubs with lots of leaf litter along a wood edge.