Friendly & Sweet: California Towhee

16 Feb

A large, dully marked, ground-foraging sparrow, the California Towhee is a characteristic bird of chaparral and underbrush in oak woodlands of California. It occurs in remote backcountry habitats, but also is common in urban and suburban areas.
From All About Birds:  California Towhee


What that doesn’t say is how friendly and sociable California Towhees are.   Towhees are the kind of birds who hang out in your garden while you are gardening.  They don’t mind posing for photographs.  They stay around even while the kids are rampaging their way from the house to the car in the mornings.


Towhees may be “dully marked” but their beauty is in their subtlety.  They are brown with cinnamon highlights on their face and sides.  And, when they scurry away from you on the ground, they flip their tails up and reveal a bright orange butt.  Dully marked only to the uninitiated!


But the main reason I love my California Towhees is their song.  They love it sit and call in the spring, just one loud, clear note of “tsip” over and over again.  I have woken up to this pair calling in my yard for years.  They are far-and-away my favorite neighbors! If you click on the “All About Birds” link above, you can listen to their song.  Enjoy!

For more photos of cooperative birds, visit Bird Photography Weekly.


14 Responses to “Friendly & Sweet: California Towhee”

  1. sparverius 16 February, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    Well, I was one of the uninitiated. But thanks to your description, I can see the lovely highlights, and would love to see that orange butt. Thank you for sharing.

  2. BEG 16 February, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    I love ’em too, I think it’s that orange butt flashing after all their demurity ;-). I’m surprised to see yours in a tree though. Mine all hop along on the ground.

    IIRC, they tend to keep to a specific territory, so if you see one regularly it’s likely the same one.

  3. Larry Jordan 16 February, 2009 at 8:20 am #

    Beautiful captures of the California Towhee Liza! It is also one of my favorite birds that visit frequently.

    You have described it to a T. Their beauty really is in their subtlety. I love the first image, lookin right at ya!

  4. Bob K 16 February, 2009 at 9:30 am #

    Well said, Liza! How can one not love this endearing bird? They are so friendly, you can almost step on them sometimes. 🙂

  5. Karen Zack 16 February, 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi Liza,
    I love your pictures and wondered what kind of camera and settings you’re using to get your terrific shots. I keep prowling around in my neighbor’s yard trying to shoot the birds but am having trouble getting what I want. Your pictures are wonderful!


  6. jayne 16 February, 2009 at 12:37 pm #

    I think he’s a lovely bird, and would love to enjoy him here. :c)

  7. Sandy 16 February, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    We have the rufous-sided or spotted towhee here, but they are mostly seen in the underbrush in the woods. I didn’t realize they were in the sparrow family until I read your post and looked it up. Your’s is a pretty bird, nothing like ours.

  8. MaineBirder 16 February, 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    Very nice photos!

    We have Rufous-sided Towhees visiting our ground feeders during the warmer months.

  9. robin andrea 16 February, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

    I’ve just discovered these lovely brown birds. I haven’t familiarized myself with their song yet, but I’m heading right over to the Cornell site to have a listen.

  10. mon@rch 16 February, 2009 at 5:22 pm #

    What an interesting bird, I hope one day to see one of these guys!

  11. Kyle 20 February, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    Beautiful captures, Liza! We get Spotted and Eastern Towhees wintering here in Texas, but I haven’t seen any this year.

    Happy birding this weekend!

  12. Lise12 15 May, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    These are my favorite garden birds and have a great personality. That Cornell site (really, all the birding sites I’ve seen that mention Towhees) misses a lot of the info that makes this bird so special. They’re klutzy, round balls that hop around foraging, are very frequent bathers (every 2-4 hours), are very friendly, and if you put out a dish of seeds or water for them, they will proceed to stomp around crazily trying to dig up the deeper seeds/water/whatever.

    I’ve had a pair of towhees at my garden in LA for years, and they recently had a chick (a first, as I can remember) that’s become a resident. Every morning the chick (mottled, smaller and rounder, incompetent flyer) bounces around my garden, landing on herb pots and falling over onto his head, hopping up and trying to reach pieces of chives or grass that he munches on, falling over when he tries to fly up onto a ledge and misses, etc. Probably the least brightest bird I’ve ever seen, but also the sweetest and most entertaining.

    They seem to prefer insects more than anything I’ve tried to feed them, but will eat millet and shelled sunflower seeds and peanuts (they’re incompetent at actually shelling anything themselves). Great birds! Thanks for the photos.

    • Liza Lee Miller 16 May, 2009 at 7:54 am #

      Nice to find another Towhee lover! They are awesome yardbirds!

  13. tabatha 29 May, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    great description!

    right now we have a baby California Towhee in our front yard/patio and we’re so nervous…it has a little stubby tail and can’t fly yet, only hop around…the parents were frantic yesterday, flying down to it from the wall and the tree….

    we were worried as dusk fell since we have rats…..this morning we were elated to see the baby hopping around again….but now…we don’t see it and we’re worried again

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