Towhees are usually shy sulkers and rush for cover at the slightest disturbance.
There are six species of Towhees in North America; Spotted, Eastern, Green-tailed, Canyon, Abert’s and California. Only the Eastern Towhee is found east of the Mississippi River.
Towhees are members of the sparrow family.
Towhees are ground feeders and use a hop-and-scratch foraging method. While jumping forward with its head and tail up, it kicks its strong legs backwards to uncover its food in the leaf litter on the forest floor or underneath feeders where the seeds are clearly visible.
In 1586 John White became the first European to discover and draw the Eastern Towhee. He had come to North Carolina as the governor of Sir Walter Raleigh's doomed colony on Roanoke Island.
The name "towhee," a simulation of the bird's call, was coined in 1731 by the naturalist and bird artist, Mark Catesby.
The Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee were both named the Rufus-sided Towhee until 1995 when they were determined to be genetically separate species.
Northern populations of the Eastern Towhee are migratory; southern populations are year-round residents.
The Spotted Towhee seems to be somewhat hardier than the Eastern Towhee, as it withstands lower temperatures.
About 30 percent of the Spotted Towhee’s food is insects and the rest is seeds and berries.
Spencer Baird was the first person to describe the Abert’s Towhee in 1852. He named it for Lt. James William Abert, a U.S. Army topographical engineer, who obtained the specimen during a survey of New Mexico.
Abert’s Towhees average two successful broods a year despite living in a harsh hot and dry environment, but it may take as many as six nesting attempts to produce the two broods.
California Towhees aggressively defend their territories year-round and often battle their own reflections in windows and other reflective surfaces.
The California Towhee was first named as a separate species in 1839. By 1886, it had been lumped in with the Canyon Towhee and both were renamed the Brown Towhee. In 1989, DNA studies once again separated the two species.
California Towhees are known to use the morning dew on plants as a source of water.
Female Green-tailed Towhees distract predators away from their nest by dropping straight down to the ground and running away in a mouse-like fashion.