I’ve really been enjoying my lunch time walks along the country roads near my work place in rural Comox Valley, British Columbia. With farm fields, blackberry brambles, and roadside thickets sparrows are common.
One of my favourite sparrows at any time of year is the Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus). This large, dramatic sparrow usually announces itself with a “raspy mewing” that sort of sounds like a cat. Its song is a trill that has been described as “drink your tea.”
The Spotted Towhee is a handsome sparrow that is easy to identify. Its head is dark black as is the back and wings (which are spotted with white, differentiating it from the Eastern Towhee which lacks the spots). Noticeable is the bird’s red eye and rufous flanks. Before they were split, the Spotted Towhee (western North America) and the Eastern Towhee (eastern North America) were collectively called the Rufous-sided Towhee. The breast and belly are a contrasting white. All in all, the Spotted Towhee is a beautiful and very distinctive sparrow.
Look for the spotted towhee in the shrubs and thickets that characterize roadside and forest edge habitat. It is a common visitor at feeders in the winter and can often be seen scratching in leaf litter for seeds and small invertebrates. Check out Mike’s video of a Spotted Towhee doing its double-scratching hop over at Slugyard. The backward hop uncovers things like beetles, millipedes, spiders, and wood bugs that are quickly devoured.
I see Spotted Towhees regularly on my lunch time walks and their “indignant” displays always make my day. On these gray west coast winter days, the red eye of the Spotted Towhee and its bright rufous flanks make it a sparrow worth looking for.
Read more about the Spotted Towhee over at Pacific NW Birder: Spotted Towhee.