Monday, October 26, 2015

Eastern Towhee

This Eastern Towhee was the last bird photographed during our March/April road-trip to Texas and Florida. We found it in Cove Lake State Park about half way across Tennessee. The bottom photo is another Eastern Towhee that John Holden and I found in May here in Minnesota.

Male Eastern Towhees, like these birds, are famous for their “drink your tea!” song. The first note is sharp and the last note is a trill. According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, sometimes the song will start with more than one “drink.” The calls of both sexes are a rising “chewink or tow-hee.” The songs and calls, however, are quite variable. Occasionally towhees mimic songs and calls of other species. Male towhees learn their songs from their parents and other nearby adults (Greenlaw 2015).

Eastern and Spotted towhee songs become even more complicated where they overlap and occasionally hybridize in the northern Great Plains. Males can learn the wrong species’ call, making identification by sound impossible. In South Dakota, I once saw a Spotted Towhee singing the Eastern’s “drink-your-tea.” The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology discribes the Spotted Towhee’s song as “a drier faster take on the Eastern Towhee’s drink-your-tea song that often omits the middle section…The song starts with one or two (up to eight) short introductory notes and then a fast trill that can sound like a taut rubber band being plucked,"

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