In the tangled scrub

It would be tough to hike through chaparral vegetation with its spiky, twisted, tough branches poking out every which way.  So that makes it the perfect habitat for the skulkers that prefer to hide while they forage — like the towhees (a funny name that supposedly sounds like their call?).  Playing their song to them a few times usually elicits a brief appearance of the males defending their territory, sometimes in just the right light. (Click on any of the photos to see a larger version of it.)

spotted towhee male in poison oak

A Spotted Towhee perched cautiously in its home of poison oak scrub to check on possible intruders (us).  His handsome black head, red eye, and chestnut (rufous) sides are the distinguishing field marks.

These large-bodied finches look just like the Eastern Towhee that visits Minnesota each spring and summer, but they have splotches of white on their wings and back (hence the name “spotted”) and instead of singing the characteristic “drink your teeeeeaaaa” song of the Eastern Towhee, they just screech “teeeeaaa” over and over persistently for minutes (or perhaps hours) on end.

spotted towhee male singing

They don’t often show themselves in the open while singing which makes it a challenge to find them in the chaparral scrub.

California Towhees are the typical “large brown bird” that looks like every other large brown bird.  But if you’re walking in the coastal chaparral of California, it’s a good bet that the brown bird you see is this species, because it has a very restricted geographic range that doesn’t overlap with that of the other brown-colored Towhees.

California Towhee

I think this might have been a female California Towhee, who responded to our playback of the male’s song inquisitively, but never sang a note back to us.

California Towhees have just a hint of rufous color on their head, throat, and flanks, but otherwise are just plain brown, with brown eyes.  Their song sounds a little like that of the Wrentit (see an earlier post), but is a higher-pitched, metallic, and shorter-lasting, series of chips that accelerate into a short trill.

California Towhee

Towhees look for seeds and insects in the litter, using a peculiar backward two-step and scratching the litter up with two feet simultaneously. You can often hear them scratching away in the underbrush, but never catch even a glimpse.

4 thoughts on “In the tangled scrub

  1. The first image is a spectacular portrait of this beautiful bird, Sue. I catch a glimpse from time to time of his eastern cousin, but it’s rare to get a clear view of one.

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