Imagine working in your garden and you hear a bird inviting you to ‘drink your teeeeee’.
This is the song of the Eastern Towhee. This striking member of the sparrow family is more often heard than seen. It can be found in forest edges and brushy habitats in the eastern US and southeast Canada.
The male towhee has a black head and back, rufous sides and white belly. The female’s head and back are a rich brown, otherwise their markings are the same. They are a large sparrow measuring 8 1/2 inches with a long dark tail edged with white. The white edge is visible during flight.
Towhees migrate to our region in early May and have been known to stay until November. Some may over winter in Southern Ontario. I had a customer who shared a lovely photo of a Cardinal and Towhee feeding together under a feeder in the snow. Towhees spend much of their time close to the ground foraging for food. They rake the ground with their feet in a back and forth motion searching for seeds, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, moths and caterpillars.
Towhees build their nests either on the ground under shrubs or in the lower branches of bushes. The nest is usually no higher than 5 feet from the ground. The female builds a cup shaped nest with bits of bark, rootlets, twigs and grasses. She lines the nest with fine grass and animal hair.
Three or four eggs will be laid, pale grey in colour with brown spots by the larger end. Incubation is primarily done by the female for 12-13 days. Both parents will look after the nestlings who will stay in the nest for 10-12 days. They depend on their parents for some time after fledging. Two broods are common. The oldest Towhee on record was 12 years old.
You can attract Towhees to your garden by leaving an overgrown border for them to scratch through, or leave leaf litter under your shrubs and bushes. They will also be attracted to seed underneath your bird feeders. Scattering some sunflower, cracked corn and peanuts will entice them to visit. By following these suggestions you may be able to enjoy watching Towhees over the coming months.
Author – Jane Paradis