Towhee in Savannas Preserve

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Most of the Savannas Preserve State Park looks like this, open grassland with slash pine and saw palmetto plus some wetlands. I walked there with a friend yesterday and we looked for birds.

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In a scrubby area, we heard a rustling in the bushes and a loud whistled call with a rising note. I somehow managed to focus my camera into the tangle.

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Eastern Towhee, a large New World sparrow. It’s the second one I’ve ever seen. The first was a female in May 2016 in our old New Hampshire backyard: My first towhee.

This one’s a male. Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Males are striking: bold sooty black above and on the breast, with warm rufous sides and white on the belly. Females have the same pattern, but are rich brown where the males are black.

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Eastern Towhees are characteristic birds of forest edges, overgrown fields and woodlands, and scrubby backyards or thickets. The most important habitat qualities seem to be dense shrub cover with plenty of leaf litter for the towhees to scratch around in.

Towhees eat many foods: seeds, fruits, insects, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, and snails, as well as soft leaf and flower buds in spring. They also eat seeds and fruits, including ragweeds, smartweeds, grasses, acorns, blackberries, blueberries, wheat, corn, and oats.

And from the Audubon Field Guide

Sometimes secretive but often common, this bird may be noticed first by the sound of industrious scratching in the leaf-litter under dense thickets. In the nesting season, males become bolder, singing from high perches. In some areas this bird is commonly known as “Chewink,” after the sound of its callnote. In parts of the Southeast and Florida, the towhees have white eyes.

More on the song/ call from Wikipedia

The song is a short drink your teeeeea lasting around one second, starting with a sharp call (“drink!”) and ending with a short trill “teeeeea”. The name “towhee” is onomatopoeic description of one of the towhee’s most common calls, a short two-part call rising in pitch and sometimes also called a “chewink” call.

Grab bag of May birds

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Brown-headed Cowbird at the top of the dawn redwood in our front yard.

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Gray Catbird at the edge of the red maple swamp out back.

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Common Yellowthroat takes off.

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Tree Swallow perches on the martin house “antenna.”

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Eastern Phoebe holds still for a moment.

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Red-winged Blackbird sings atop a maple at the edge of the swamp.

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Eastern Towhee, female, scuffling in leaves at the edge of the field.

My first towhee

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What’s under the back deck stairs? A new bird!

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It’s a female Eastern Towhee. Pretty!

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Hard to get a good shot.

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A strikingly marked, oversized sparrow of the East, feathered in bold black and warm reddish-browns – if you can get a clear look at it. Eastern Towhees are birds of the undergrowth, where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size. Their chewink calls let you know how common they are, but many of your sightings end up mere glimpses through tangles of little stems.

So true!