Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee (Passerina cyanea)


Eastern towhee./T. Berriman

General: Formerly called the “rufous-sided towhee,” the eastern towhee is a large sparrowlike bird. Males are black above, with a white belly and rufous sides; females have brown upper parts instead of black. Eastern towhees inhabit dense, shrubby areas, including low woody vegetation beneath trees, both in forest interiors and edges. They prefer woods with a few large trees but a generally open canopy, habitats that can develop following natural and human-caused disturbances such as wind storms and timber harvests. Eastern towhees often forage on the ground for food (insects, other invertebrates, small fruits, and seeds), turning up the leaf litter by hopping backward while scratching with both feet. They place their nests on or near the ground beneath shrubby vegetation. During winter and while migrating, they look for small patches of brush and young forest in which to shelter and feed.

Status: Censuses suggest that the eastern towhee is still common throughout its range, although its numbers have declined rapidly in the East and particularly in the Northeast. Habitat loss is probably the cause, owing to young forests continuing to mature into closed-canopy, middle-aged woods with a sparser understory.

How to Help Eastern Towhees: Clearcut timber harvests in forested areas allow local populations to expand. Both public and private landowners can create habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

For more detailed information on this animal, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing eastern towhees and other young forest wildlife.