Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Bird


Eastern towhees are ground sparrows. At first glance, male and female eastern towhees look very different. The males are black, while the females are brown. But at closer inspection, the males and females share several similar markings. Both male and female eastern towhees have white chests, orange sides, and yellowish rumps. Eastern towhees are about eight inches (20 centimeters) long with a 10-inch (25-centimeter) wingspan.

Many times an eastern towhee will be heard before it is seen. They sing with a musical "drink-your-teaeeee." The "tea" part of the song is a rolling trill. Eastern towhees also have a shorter "shewink" call.


Eastern towhees live year-round in the Southeast and Midwest, and also migrate to the Northeast and the Great Lakes region in the summer. These birds like shrubby woodlands, fields, and scrublands. They prefer a lot of ground cover where they can search for food.


Eastern towhees spend most of their time foraging for seeds, insects, and fruit on the ground or on low shrubs. The birds scratch the ground with their feet to uncover food buried under leaves or dirt. The eastern towhee has a thick beak that helps it break open seeds. Spiders, snails, and millipedes are also eaten, and rarely the bird may eat small salamanders, lizards, or snakes.

Life History

Females usually build nests under bushes or brush piles. The bird gathers twigs, leaves, and bark to construct the nest and lines it with animal hair. A female will have between two and six eggs, which incubate for 12 to 13 days. Both parents care for the hatchlings until they fledge 10 to 12 days later.

Eastern Towhees are often victims of brood parasitism from brown-headed cowbirds, who lay their eggs in the towhee's nest. The towhee incubates the eggs and rears the cowbird hatchling as its own.


Eastern towhees are not listed as threatened or endangered, but their numbers have been declining over the last few decades. Construction of subdivisions and the continued growth of shrublands into forests have made the landscape for eastern towhees less suitable. Towhees are important to the ecosystem because they consume pest insects and help to propagate the seeds of various plants.

Fun Fact

Eastern towhees can have red or white eyes.


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