Towhee 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) but not any longer.

This information covers the general nesting and feeding habits and identifications of the Eastern Towhee. We've added an extra image of the Spotted Towhee below.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee Call


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 similar to 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.

Males usually 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 begin using the "chewink" call to keep in contact with one another.

Nesting Habits

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

These nests can be challenging to find since the female does not fly directly 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 cream-colored or greenish eggs that are spotted with brown which she incubates for 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.

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 pull predators away from the nest site.

Feeding Habits

The feeding habits of this bird 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.

These birds primarily eat seeds and berries. They will eat insects during spring and summer when found on the ground.

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 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.

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