Rufous Sided Towhee

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Spotted Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC
spotted Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

The spotted 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.

Spotted 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.  During winter, many of the spotted towhee birds will winter on Vancouver Island.

Spotted Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC
Spotted Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud 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 from 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 female has chosen a mate, the males stop singing and get about the business of raising young.

Spotted Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC
Spotted Towhee, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

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.

Not very long ago, the eastern and spotted towhee were considered to be the same bird and were known as the rufous-sided towhee, we now know them to be two separate subspecies.

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