Photo: Greg W. Lasley/Vireo

Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Sometimes secretive but often common, this bird may be noticed first by the sound of industrious scratching in the leaf-litter under dense thickets. In the nesting season, males become bolder, singing from high perches. In some areas this bird is commonly known as "Chewink," after the sound of its callnote. In parts of the Southeast and Florida, the towhees have white eyes.
Conservation status Population in northeast has declined seriously in recent decades. Elsewhere, numbers are probably stable.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Open woods, undergrowth, brushy edges. Habitat varies with region, but always in brushy areas. In the Northeast, typically in understory of open woods.
Sometimes secretive but often common, this bird may be noticed first by the sound of industrious scratching in the leaf-litter under dense thickets. In the nesting season, males become bolder, singing from high perches. In some areas this bird is commonly known as "Chewink," after the sound of its callnote. In parts of the Southeast and Florida, the towhees have white eyes.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, frequently scratching in the leaf-litter. Also sometimes forages up in shrubs and low trees.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 5, rarely 2-6. Creamy white to very pale gray, with spots of brown often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, may remain with parents for some time thereafter. Often 2 broods per year, sometimes 3 in southern part of range.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, may remain with parents for some time thereafter. Often 2 broods per year, sometimes 3 in southern part of range.

Diet

Mostly insects, seeds, berries. Diet varies with season and region. Eats many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, caterpillars, moths, true bugs, ants, and many others, also spiders, snails, and millipedes. Rarely may eat small salamanders, lizards, or snakes. Also eats many seeds, plus acorns, berries, and small fruits.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing, often from a high perch. In courtship, male may give a soft "whispered" version of song, may chase female, or may rapidly spread tail to show off white spots. Nest site is on the ground under a shrub, or in low bushes, usually less than 5' above the ground. Nest (built by female) is an open cup of grass, twigs, weeds, rootlets, strips of bark, lined with finer materials, sometimes including animal hair.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Many southern birds are permanent residents; most in the North are migratory.

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Migration

Many southern birds are permanent residents; most in the North are migratory.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
The song varies, often with a few introductory notes and usually ending with a long trill, such as drink-your-teeaaa or to-wheeeee. Call is an inquisitive meewww?
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.