Birds of the Western Slope Dec. 27, 2017

By Evelyn Horn

Birds of the Western Slope Dec. 27, 2017 | Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn

Photo by Bill Schmoker Rufous-sided towhee photographed at Utah canyon lands in 2004.

spotted towhee

How long ago? I don't really remember. I know it was in the Nevada-years and the local Audubon Society had received word about the "rufous- sided towhee" in Arizona. They planned a trip, but Allen and I decided to go look for ourselves. When we left Las Vegas and headed toward Arizona, we weren't sure where we were going -- so that led to a few mistakes. But then, we had the whole weekend!

I remember going through pinyon-juniper woodlands and checking all of the likely places for a songbird to perch. It was a fascinating drive, but no towhee to be seen. This was a new bird for me. We came up a small hill and there at the top, I scanned the surrounding trees and brush. And there was my towhee!

He was sitting on a barren set of twigs and singing. What a delight! The bright red eye in the black head, the shiny black bill and the white breast were spectacular. The rufous side above the breast gave this bird its name. Allen and I watched in fascination. We had found our bird, and he was spectacular. He seemed content, and we watched him for a good deal of time. I was especially taken with the white in his tail and happy for the chance to study bird's feet: skinny, scrawny and plain gray. I wondered how he could live with them!

But when we came to the Delta area there were lots and lots of birds. And I was in heaven! We planted native plants and, as they matured, we had loads and loads of birds. All of the towhees are known for their "scuffling," double-scratch foraging technique. In fact, it's a good clue to the entire group. If you should be in our mountains, and see a bird doing the double-scratch it's probably the grayish green-tailed towhee. Or if you should journey to our southwest, and you see a bird doing the double-scratch it's no doubt a towhee: the California, brown, and Abert's towhees are all brownish and about nine inches long.

And now my friend, Jim Wallace, has a towhee at his place here in Eckert.

My records show that in 1998 we had our towhee. I'd like to borrow his bird! But it's called "spotted towhee" (note the white spots on the wings).