What’s black, white and rufous all over? The spotted towhee.
This bird has a black head, neck and back with white spots and white wing bars. The sides are rufous colored. Females are similarly but duller colored.
They are here year-round and commonly found in your backyard under or near bushes and shrubs.
The spotted towhee split from the Eastern towhee in 1995. The spotted towhee has more white spots on wings and back. Their calls are similar enough to both being referred to as “drink-your-tea.” And so, a group of towhees is called a “teapot”. Or a “tangle” referring to their affinity for thick shrubbery.
These birds are omnivores meaning they eat everything. During spring and summer, they eat lots of insects: beetles, ladybugs, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, bees, and wasps. Great to have around your garden! They scratch in the leaf litter for millipedes, sowbugs and spiders. Berries and seeds round out their diet. Towhees use a two-footed backward scratch in the leaf litter to uncover their food, then pounce on what they find. This scratching behavior earned them the nickname of “ground robin.”
In the breeding season, male spotted towhees will sing almost all morning long to attract a mate. When he has found his mate, singing takes second fiddle to more important duties.
Spotted towhees nest on or near the ground. Dry leaves, stems and strips of bark start forming the nest. It is then lined with fine materials like grasses, pine needles and hair. If the nest is on the ground, the nest is built into a depression so the rim of the nest is at or slightly above ground level. She will lay 3-6 eggs in 1 or 2 broods per season. Incubation and nesting take about 25 days. The fledglings leave the nest but stay with the parents for a short time.
If you see a spotted towhee carrying around a stick, bark or leaf and there is another male nearby, the one with the stick is submissive. When disturbed, towhees flick their wings when perched and flash the white corners of their tails.
To attract these birds, sprinkle seed on the ground near bushes. Seed mixes that include sunflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet and milo are good choices. They will run out from under cover to eat and scurry back to where it is safe. And they will keep the insects under control!
The oldest known spotted towhee was 11 years old when recaptured during banding operations.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.