Rufous Sided Towhee

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The rufous sided towhee is up to 20 cm long. It has a small pointed black bill, reddish-brown eyes, and long black-colored tail feathers with white corners that are visible in flight. The male towhees are recognizable by their black upperparts and hoods, their rusty orange flanks and their white bellies. Female towhees are of similar color but their upper parts are of a duller slate gray or brownish shade.

The rufous sided towhee can be seen on Vancouver Island, British Columbia east to Maine and south to California, Louisiana, Florida and Guatemala during the breeding season. During winter, the birds move south from British Columbia, Nebraska, and southern New England. They will winter on Vancouver Island.

Rufous sided towhees prefer to build nests and dwell in thickets and at the edges of brushy woodlands, gardens and shrubby park areas.

During the breeding season, the female single-handed will build a cup-like nest using grass, twigs, weeds, barks, and stems usually at the bottom of a bough of a tree or shrub or near the ground in a well-covered area. While the female does all the building, the male brings her the materials for the nest.

Rufous Sided Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC
Rufous Sided Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

The towhees nest can be difficult to locate because it is hidden from view. The female does not fly to it directly but lands on the ground near it and walks toward it.

The female lays up to 6 greenish or cream-colored eggs with brown speckles which she alone incubates for about 13 days while the male brings her food and protects the nest. Although the male towhee hardly goes near the nest during incubation, once the eggs are hatched it helps to feed the young towhees until they are ready to leave the nest in about 12 days after hatching.

Breeding for the towhees occurs April to May. During the breeding months, the male towhees arrive at the breeding site first and wait for the females to come. While waiting they sing to announce their presence and defend their territory that is normally around 1 hectare. The melody of their song is so beautiful that I will stop whatever I am doing just to listen to it. Once a mate is chosen, they stop singing and get about the business of raising young.

Towhees are primarily seed and berry eaters although, if they find them on the ground, insects are also devoured heartily. I scatter seed around the borders of my property under the plants and hedges.

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