Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus


Year-round Resident

Eastern Towhees are common year-round residents in the Washington metro area. They can be seen and heard regularly at Monticello Park. They have probably nested in the park or the surrounding neighborhood.

Where to See Them in the Park

You can find Eastern Towhees in most parts of the park. They generally forage low in the underbrush, which can make them difficult to see.

Physical Description


Eastern Towhee Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Towhee Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Towhees are New World sparrows — they are in the same family as Song and White-throated Sparrows. The male is distinctive, with his rufous flanks, white belly, and black head, breast, and back. When male towhees fly, you can see a flash of white on the outer tail feathers. During breeding season, males often perch on exposed branches and sing.

Eastern Towhee Female
Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Towhee Female
Female - Photo by William Higgins

Eastern Towhee Female
Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Female towhees look like males who have substituted brown for black plumage. They have rufous flanks, a white belly, and white outer tail feathers.

Eastern Towhee Male
Male - Photo by Michael Pollack

Both males and females go into the stream to bathe and drink. The red eye can be prominent on some birds. On others, the eye is more reddish-brown.

Juvenile Eastern Towhee Male
Juvenile male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Vocalizations


Eastern Towhee Male
Singing Male - Photo by William Young

The call and song of the Eastern Towhee are well known. The tow-hee call is the basis for the bird's name. Another call is a loud, emphatic che-wink. The song is a drawn out drink-your-teeeea.

Hear the vocalizations of the Eastern Towhee.

Notes

The Eastern Towhee used to be called the Rufous-sided Towhee. In 1995, it was split from western birds called Spotted Towhees, who look similar but have white spots on their black back. Sometimes, the two species interbreed.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Eastern, to distinguish them from the Spotted Towhee in the West. Towhee from their call.
Genus Name: Pipilo means "to chirp".
Species Name: Erythrophthalmus means "red eye".

Eastern Towhee video footage

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