Explore the Towhee (Rufous-sided) Mating, Nesting, Feeding Habits

The Rufous-Sided Towhee has a scientific name that is nearly impossible to pronounce (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).

Translated, it means "red-eyed chirper" referring to the red eye and its most common call, "chewink". This bird is sometimes called Chewink.

Until recently, the Eastern and Spotted were once considered a single species (Rufous sided Towhee) but not any longer.

This information covers the nesting and feeding habits, along with the identification of the Eastern Towhee. We've added an extra image of the Spotted Towhee below for reference.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee Call

Description - What They Look Like

The appearance of this bird varies in different parts of the country.

Male Towhees are 7 to 9 inches in length, The eastern birds have dark heads and backs, rufous sides, a white belly, and a red eye.

In the West, they have a similar appearance except that they also have white spots on their dark wings and back.

And in the South, they may have a white eye instead of the eye being red.

Females are like males in appearance, but the black areas are browner or brownish-gray.

Mating Habits

You'll most likely hear these birds than see them since they are secretive birds. You can listen to their call above.

Males arrive first and begin singing to announce and defend their territory of about 1 1/2 to 2 acres.

When the female arrives and pairs with a male, that male will discontinue his singing and will use the "chewink" call to keep in contact with his partner.

Do Towhee's Mate for Life?

Eastern Towhee's are mongamous and stay together through multiple broods in a season.

While some pairs breed with the same partner in consecutive seasons, they are not known as mating for life.

Nesting Habits

The female Eastern Towhee does all the building of the nest. A cup of grass, twigs, and rootlets are hidden on the ground, under the bough of a tree or shrub.

These nests can be challenging to find, since the female does not fly to the nest.

Instead, she lands a few feet away and, using the cover of brush, walks to the nest.

Eastern Towhee

Spotted Towhee

The female lays 2 to 6 eggs with the average being 3 to 5 eggs.

Eggs are cream-colored or greenish and are spotted with brown. The female begins incubation after the last egg or next to the last egg is laid.

Incubation will last 12 - 13 days. The young will leave the nest in 10 - 12 days after hatching. Up to 2 broods a season.

During nest building and incubation, the male will rarely come near the nest.

Cowbirds often lay their eggs in the nest of Towhees. Cowbirds, on average, lay 1 to 2 eggs per Towhee nest site.

If Cowbird eggs are laid in the nest, the Towhees will raise both theirs and the Cowbirds young.

These rufous sided birds will tend to their young up to 4 weeks after the young leave the nest.

Eastern Towhee Nesting Stats
Rufous-sided Towhee Nesting Stats
Eggs 3 - 5
Incubation 12 - 13 days
Nestling Phase 10- 12 days
Broods 1 - 2

After the young hatch, the male helps feed the nestlings. An interesting behavior is if the female is disturbed while on the nest rather than flying away, she will instead run.

She may also pretend to have an injury to encourage predators to chase her, drawing them away from the nest site.

Towhee Feeding Habits

The feeding habits of Towhees are a bit unusual. A ground-feeding bird, their behavior is similar to that of the white-throated sparrow.

Eastern Towhee Eating Seeds

They hop forward and then jump backward, dragging their feet to pull leaves and debris to reveal the insects and seeds they eat.

Eastern Towhees primarily eat seeds and berries, but during the breeding season, they will eat insects found on the ground.

Invertebrates make up a large portion of their diet. Eating crickets, moths, beetles, caterpillars, ants, and grasshoppers.

After the breeding season in late summer, ripening fruit is the favorite choice of food to eat.

A ground platform or tray feeder placed near the underbrush may attract the Towhee to feed in your yard. Keeping in mind the slightest disturbance will have them diving for cover.

Predators of the Eastern Towhee

Since they nest on the ground, predators such as the bullsnake, garter snake, and rat snake eat the eggs and young of these birds.

Blue Jays and eastern chipmunks are also known as predators of eggs and young.

Known predators of adult Towhees include Cooper's hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Short-eared Owls.

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Birds and Blooms Pioneer Woman People Magazine First For Women