Backyard Birds: A Tail of Three Towhees

Winter dissolves into Spring in New Mexico’s East Mountains, and with this change of seasons comes clouds of pollen, strong winds and a new cast of songbirds. As the Dark-eyed Juncos head north to their Canadian and Alaskan breeding grounds, they leave behind the resident Juniper Titmice, House Finches, and Mountain Chickadees, and one of the largest sparrows in the songbird group, the Canyon Towhee.

By early April, the warbly bell ringing song and raspy cat-like mewling call of the male Spotted Towhee can be heard from the tree tops, as he invites all willing suitors and warns off competitors, declaring our backyard his private territory.

Then by mid-April, in moves the dapper Green-tailed Towhee, dominating the seed-littered ground beneath the feeders and chasing away every other bird that dare to grab a bite.

Definitely Towhee season in the East Mountains!

It’s been fun observing the three species of Towhees in our backyard. Although their markings differ widely, they are seldom seen, being experts of duck and cover.. But I always know when these guys are around……… Towhees are easy to recognize by the way they eat. They employ the ”2-legged backwards scratch and hop” technique to uncover buried seeds and insects. When all this scratching and hopping reveals a delectable morsel, they ponce and eat.

Towhees spend most of their day foraging in dense brush and leaf litter, and even if you can’t see the bird, he’s there making quite a racket rearranging the understory, and sometimes creating a mini dust cloud.

What birds are you observing in your backyard or neighborhood?


  1. sgoodman56 says:

    They’re all so pretty! I have bluebirds moving into the birdhouse outside my window. I like to think that it’s last year’s couple. I also have a cardinal nest in the jasmine vine outside the sunroom. I can see the nest from inside, so I have a great view without disturbing them. The robins that nested above the drainpipe on the front patio are already gone. I’m not sure if they’ll have a second family. There are lots of visitors to the feeder-goldfinches, house finches, wrens, warblers and sparrows. I think there may be Eastern Towhees although I’m not positive. They don’t come to the feeder, I see them on the ground below the bushes. It’s so distracting, it’s hard to get any work done!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Love your nature observations of yard happenings! I’ll bet the bluebird mom is the same as last year! I think they are also monogamous, so likely the same male too. You need a camera inside the box! And how cool to have a cardinal nesting so close! Do you know if they’ve laid eggs yet? We used to see eastern towhees regularly when living in Oriental. They are so much fun to watch hopping and scratching about in the duff. They also sound more cat like than the spotted towhee, so if you’re having trouble seeing them (not surprising) then listen for their calls. What a great collection of birds you have,,,,,, all of them! Thanks so much for the comments, Susan!


      1. sgoodman56 says:

        The cardinal mom is definitely sitting on eggs, but I’m not able to see down into the nest when she’s out. I’m not sure which birds are pulling up the moss that we have between the walking stones out front, but they wreak havoc daily!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved learning about the different Towhees! They are lovely! We have the Spotted Towhee here in the PNW and I am always amazed by their brilliant red eyes! I love seeing them scratching around the brush piles off to the side of our trails in the forest. Sorry about the pollen clouds!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comments, Karen! Aren’t towhee eyes dazzling!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. sgoodman56 says:

    I haven’t gotten close enough to see the towhee eyes but will try now! I also have tufted titmice (sp) and chickadees that take the fur I have hanging in a suet basket for their nests. They take amounts that are so huge, I don’t know how they can see where they’re flying! I was afraid I was going to run out so brought home fur from the groomers when I had Marina’s nails done. Very soft sheep dog fur, they seem to love it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Love love your comments! Keep looking for those towhees. They are so cool. And I always says ‘titmice’ for plurals. Such clown birds, with those big eyes and pointy crests, popping in and out for seeds. What a super idea leaving dog cut for bird nest building; such a cozy nest bowl the due must make. I’d love to see a chickadee flying away with a face full! Ha! Brilliant observations …. You must nature journal!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. sgoodman56 says:

    LOL, I’ll leave that to you!

    Liked by 2 people

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