Sunday, January 5, 2014

Black, orange and white...striking in the snow!

As snowflakes tumbled, drifted and fell, sticking to anything that didn't move (including me), I kept my camera lens trained on an American Tree Sparrow as he picked seeds from withered and dried goldenrod flower heads. It was quiet and lovely, with just the sweet calls of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows and Carolina Chickadees around me. As I watched the American Tree Sparrow through the lens, a sudden flash of orange burst through the background. What? I quickly looked up from my camera, and there in front of me sat a handsome and regal male Eastern Towhee...

Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) in the winter.
An Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) looks dashing in the snow. His deep black, rufous, and bright white plumage are especially striking with snowflakes falling all around him.
Eastern Towhees are year-round birds in our area, but we don't normally see them in our backyard. Towhees really aren't suburban birds. They like the deep leaf litter found in shrubby forest edges or open woodlands, and while some come to feeders, most shy away from humans. So I was excited and happy to see this beautiful bird. I've been adding bushes and brushy areas to our yard for years trying to create the perfect "birdy" habitat. Maybe it's starting to work. The towhee was foraging in a tangle of weeds, grasses and shrubs under our weeping willow tree. Ideal habitat for the bird...

A male Eastern (Rufous-sided) Towhee looks stately as snowflakes all around him.
An Eastern Towhee faces into the wind and falling snowflakes. 

A towhee sitting on a snow-covered branch while snowflakes fall all around has puffed up his feathers for insulation. He's warm and comfortable!
It looks like this fella took a nip of snow from the small accumulation beside him, but the visible ice crystals on his face really resulted from rooting for seeds just a moment earlier in snow-covered weeds on the ground. 

Eastern Towhees like to scrabble and scuffle in the leaf litter on the ground, so it was nice to see him come up to less snow-covered branches to pose for the camera! :-)

Rufous-sided Towhee was the previous name for this bird. The rusty orange-red sides attest for that!
I have to admit. I still let "Rufous-sided" Towhee slip when naming this bird. I learned the bird as a Rufous-sided Towhee as a teen and can't seem to shake it. The name was changed in 1995 to Eastern Towhee...could someone please tell my brain that?

For having the same black and rufous-colored plumage of an American Robin, it's amazing how different the birds look. Even from a distance the silhouette of the towhee clearly marks it as a different bird, and when you throw in the tail bobbing, spreading and flicking a towhee is so famous for, there's no question...

Towhee tails are very long for a bird in the finch family, and are even more noticeable because of how they bob and flick the tails all the time.
...the famous tail bobbing of an Eastern Towhee! 

24 comments:

TexWisGirl said...

really beautiful. i've never seen a towhee by any name. :)

rebeccainthewoods said...

You may already know this (and if so, I apologize) but the name change was the result of a "split" - the western population of what used to be the "Rufous-sided Towhee" was split off as its own species, the "Spotted" Towhee, so called because it has white spots on its wings. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos!

Kelly said...

...yes...I knew that is the reason they changed the name, but my brain still wants to go with what it learned in 1976! :-)

eileeninmd said...

I love the colors on the Towhee, it is a gorgeous bird. Lovely photos!

Steve Borichevsky said...

That's a nice yard bird, Kelly. I'm glad you spotted him. (I can't believe I just said that.)

Kelly said...

...haha! You with spotted, me with rufous! :-)

Janice K said...

Beautiful pictures...especially the last one.

Looks like you're getting a lot of snow like we are.

Have a great New Year!

Montanagirl said...

Kelly, he is really beautiful find! That was a nice surprise for you. We've seen the Spotted Towhees here, but never one of these.

Sue said...

Wow-what a treat. A very handsome bird!

dinascitywildlife.com said...

Beautiful shots of the towhee in the snow!

Roy Norris said...

Beautiful images Kelly. What a super bird.

Elaine said...

Lovely images! Pretty little bird, too.

julierowanzoch said...

Wow! I don't often comment, but look at all your posts and am always inspired - thank you!

Warren Baker said...

You're getting some great images in the snow Kelly, its hard to do that I find, as the bright snow fools the camera into setting a falsely high shutter speed.

Lovely looking birds you have :-)

Laura said...

lovely, lovely photos!

Marco Luyken said...

Hey Kelly,
This is real enjoyment!! What a great shots!! Wonderful these birds in the snow.

Best regards,
Marco

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Beautiful photos of a very striking bird, your previous post on the Tree Sparrow also had incredibly nice photos the detail on the feathers in both post was wonderful.

All the best for the New Year.
Guy

Banjo52 said...

Once more, just spectacular photos, Kelly. Do you think at all about a book? I guessed right on this guy's i.d., but now maybe I won't have to guess.

Kerri Farley said...

FANTASTIC captures.....makes my heart sing!

Chris said...

Hi Kelly wonderful pictures... Even if I have seen some, I still need to see quite a few American species among which this towee... Hope you are doing fine and you are not too much affected by this North storm!

Appalachian Lady said...

I love the Towhee and wish they stayed around for our winter in the mountains. They seem to come back the end of February here. You have some great shots of the Eastern Towhee. I learned the new name when I first identified it so I guess I won't have your problem.

Julie G. said...

Lovely wintry photographs of this very handsome towhee! What a wonderful surprise to see one in your backyard. During the spring and summer on our country property we see them quite often. I would love to see one in January. A most delightful post, Kelly!

Kelly said...

...thanks everyone for the kind, kind comments! You are always so nice. Isn't this guy a beauty? This is my favorite photo I've ever taken of an Eastern Towhee. I love the snow falling all around.

(Banjo...yes, someday I'd like to put a book together. I don't know if it would be paintings or photos...or both. Thank you!)

Mary said...

Wonderful Towhee photos! I haven't seen any this winter. usually I have at least one hanging around in the snow. They are such pretty birds.