Eastern Towhee

Birding in the mountains of Shenandoah National Park was challenging. On the day I arrived, the fog was so dense, I could barely see the road. My eyes were of little use in detecting vehicles; I had to drive with the windows down to hear oncoming cars. The naturalist at the gate asked me if I was absolutely sure I wanted to enter the park that day. But I’m a diehard birder! No weather conditions are going to keep me from my birds!

I pulled into every scenic overlook. I’m sure there was a beautiful view at each one; I saw them a couple days later when the conditions cleared. However, for the first couple of days, I birded by ear, and I watched for interesting insects and plant life.

At one of the scenic overlooks a ray of sunshine was slicing through the fog. This Eastern Towhee had found that bit of sun and was singing his heart out (you can watch a fantastic video of a Towhee singing. Unfortunately, his perch was just outside my driver’s side door, so I slid out through the passenger door and snapped a quick photo before another vehicle pulled in and scared him away.

Eastern Towhees often favor shrubby areas, undergrowth and leaf litter, so I was fortunate to find this bird unobstructed and at eye level singing in the sunlight. The Towhee is a type of sparrow that usually forages on the ground for seeds and insects. They also nest on the ground, or in low shrubby areas.

When searching for an Eastern Towhee, your sense of hearing is probably your best tool. Listen for the call or, more likely, listen for the rustling of dead leaves. Towhees use a two-footed backwards-scratching hop when foraging which sounds a bit like a larger animal walking through the leaves. Follow the sound and you’ll likely see a Towhee bouncing along the ground.

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