There's movement at the edge of a snow patch on our tawny winter lawn. I see a long tail . . . gone.
Now I know why, there's a car coming along the road. This bird is certainly shy, for the juncos keep foraging. My new bird is about twice the size of them and it has a dark head and back. There isn't much insect life now in winter, so it's likely a seed-eater. A towhee?
Well, my day's work is cut out for me — watch for the towhee! As we sit down to breakfast, there's a bit of movement in the drift of leaves at the base of the ornamental pear tree. Watch . . . juncos.
Dishes are done, and I'm looking at the newspaper. There's definitely a bird in the leaf drift . . . reddish side and a white belly. Gone again. I wait a bit more . . . there's my bird. Smaller than a robin, dark seed-eater bill . . . and a red eye! It's a spotted towhee, pronounced /TOE he/. There is a pattern of white spots along the wing, so the common name, "spotted," with the scientific label of Pipilo maculatus. The term Pipilo means chirping or twittering and maculatus means "spotted." This little nine-inch bird is an old friend, but infrequently seen, so this is a treat for me. They are more likely found in the high country and seem to come down here for winter.
There are a number of Towhees, occurring in various locations across our continent. Though they differ in plumage, they're all seed-eaters and they all have a similar foraging style called a "double scratch." Many small birds scratch with one foot, but the towhees scratch with both feet at once. To me, they seem to bounce up and down. Now, right at the edge of the leaf-drift . . . leaves are being tossed about
. . . and there's the towhee! Up onto the exposed cottonwood root . . . over toward the pyracantha . . .
gone again. I'll check my copy of Sibley's "Guide to Birds." There's a similar Eastern towhee (no spots on the wing), and a hybrid of the two! Plus Pacific, Southwest, and Great Plains varieties of my bird. Sibley says, "More study needed." Yep!