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Brooklyn Bird Watch: August 5

The Eastern Towhee. Scientific name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus

August 5, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Today Brooklyn Bird Watch features a colorful Heather Wolf photo of the Eastern Towhee. Ornithologists call the Eastern Towhee a large sparrow with a thick bill and long tail, larger than a sparrow yet smaller than a Robin.

The Cornell Lab descrubes it is an “oversized sparrow of the East, feathered in bold black and warm reddish-browns —if you can get a clear look at it. These birds like the undergrowth where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size.” Cornell says that their song is a common sound, but a sighting of this bird could end up a mere glimpse through tangles of little stems. With this reality in mind, Ms. Wolf’s photo of the Eastern Towhee in Brooklyn Bridge Park reminds one of the exceptional skill and persistence required of the professional bird photographer.

As noted before in Brooklyn Bird Watch, nesting in the wild has its challenges. A Cornell “Cool Fact” about the Eastern Towhee is that they are common victims of the Brown-headed Cowbird. Female cowbirds lay eggs in towhee nests, then leave the birds to raise their cowbird young. “In some areas cowbirds lay eggs in more than half of all towhee nests. Towhees, unlike some other birds, show no ability to recognize or remove the imposter’s eggs. Female cowbirds typically take out a towhee egg when laying their own, making the swap still harder to notice.” 

Look for Eastern Towhees in brush, tangles, thickets, and along forest edges where there’s plenty of leaf litter for the birds to forage in. Walk slowly along the edges of forests, thickets, and old fields. Listen carefully for the Eastern Towhee’s scratchy chewink call, its bright song, or simply any rustling the bird makes in dry leaves. Then lower your eyes to ground level and scan the leaf litter, looking for a scratching towhee or the bright white corners of the bird flashing its tail at you.

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