Eastern Towhee

The Eastern Towhee, flanked by black sides and copper underneath, is a bold sparrow native to scrub and shrub habitat throughout the eastern United States.

Photo by Steve Guttmann, Creative Commons

Photo by Steve Guttmann, Creative Commons

The bird seems to prefer edge habitat that is early in succession, meaning some disturbance has recently affected the habitat such as fire, logging, grazing, or some other human disturbance.

In Wisconsin, nest-building begins in late May and can continue for some individuals until July. This species interestingly spends a lot of time on the ground. Nests are built in the ground, and males and females will hop around a dense understory thicket of shrubs while foraging, sometimes scratching at the soil to uncover nuts and seeds.

You'll notice the thick beak of the towhee, which effectively cracks seeds and nuts. Acorns, ragweed, corn, and blackberries are favorite meal items. During the breeding season, abundant insect populations will supply the towhee with about half of its diet, while only 80% of its diet is composed of plant matter during fall and winter.

The towhee has seen steady declines in Wisconsin and throughout its range, though the bird is still quite abundant. Suburban sprawl might be one culprit, but there is little concern for its overall health.

Its distribution throughout Wisconsin is interesting, as the towhee occurs in the west-central driftless, the northeast and northwest pine barrens, and in the Kettle Moraine. These areas contain a concentration of savanna habitat, and it's possible that overgrown shrubs throughout these regions have benefited towhees while possibly damaging savanna specialist plants and animals.

You can find Eastern Towhees at Faville Grove in the ledge savanna and around Faville Woods. Keep your eyes close to the ground, and listen for its strangely condescending call: drink your teeeeaaa!

By Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward