Boulder‘s Rufous-sided Towhee, now more commonly known as the Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), is a striking bird species within the American sparrow family (Passerellidae). This bird is particularly noted for its unique appearance and melodious song, making it a fascinating subject of study for ornithologists and bird watchers alike.

How many images of this sparrow-family beauty are enough? Easy! Any number of pics of this fantastic fantasy feathered friend is not enough. I have seen countless numbers over many years, in the back yard. We have at least one family who have taken up residence. The family is at least a pair of adults and an offspring. I never tire of them. Each time I see one I am thrilled, and I  think I’m not alone in this fascination.

Characterized by its distinctive plumage, the Eastern Towhee presents a striking contrast in colors. The males are especially noticeable with their black upper bodies and tails, stark white bellies, and rufous (reddish-brown) flanks, from which the bird’s common name is derived. Females, although less boldly colored, display a similar pattern with shades of brown replacing the black. This coloration not only makes the Eastern Towhee a beautiful bird to observe but also serves as an effective camouflage in its natural habitat, blending seamlessly into the underbrush.

Inhabiting the undergrowth of forests across eastern North America, from southern Canada to Florida and extending west to the Great Plains, the Eastern Towhee prefers areas with thick underbrush or the edges of woodlands. These environments provide ample opportunities for foraging on the ground, which is a typical behavior of the species. The bird’s diet is diverse, including insects, seeds, and fruits, which it skillfully uncovers with a characteristic scratching motion, moving backward with both feet simultaneously.

The vocalizations of the Eastern Towhee are as distinctive as its appearance. The male’s primary song is a clear, emphatic “drink-your-tea!” which carries through the bird’s habitat and has become a familiar sound to those who frequent these areas. Additionally, both sexes make a variety of calls, including a sharp “chewink” or “tow-hee,” which contributes to the bird’s common name and provides an audible indicator of its presence even when it is hidden from view.

Breeding behaviors of the Eastern Towhee are notable for the male’s vibrant courtship displays, which include song flights and chase flights designed to attract a mate. The female builds a well-concealed nest on the ground or in low bushes, where she lays and incubates a clutch of typically three to four eggs. Both parents participate in feeding the hatchlings, showcasing a cooperative effort in ensuring the survival of their offspring.

Conservation efforts for the Eastern Towhee have been generally successful, with the species maintaining stable populations across much of its range. However, habitat destruction and fragmentation pose ongoing threats, necessitating continued conservation actions to preserve the suitable environments these birds rely on.

In conclusion, the Eastern Towhee (Rufous-sided Towhee) is a fascinating bird, noteworthy for its distinctive plumage, engaging behaviors, and melodious vocalizations. Its presence enriches the ecosystems of eastern North America, making it a beloved species among bird watchers and an important subject for ecological study.

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Shared Knowledge is Power!

  • Senior Counsel Emeritus to the Boulder Law firm Dolan + Zimmerman LLP : (720)-610-0951
  • Former Judge
  • Photographer of the Year, AboutBoulder 2023
  • First Chair and Originator of the Colorado Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee, a National first.
  • Previous Chair, Boulder Criminal Defense Bar (8 years)
  • Twice chair Executive Counsel, Colorado Bar Association Criminal Law Section
  • NORML Distinguished Counsel Circle
  • Life Member, NORML Legal Committee
  • Life Member, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Board Member Emeritus, Colorado NORML
  • Chair, Colorado NORML, 7 years including during the successful effort to legalize recreational pot in Colorado
  • Media work, including episodes of Fox’s Power of Attorney, well in excess of many hundreds media interviews, appearances, articles, and podcasts, including co-hosting Time For Hemp for two years.
  • Board member, Author, and Editor for Criminal Law Articles for the Colorado Lawyer, primary publication of the Colorado Bar Assoc. 7 Years, in addition to having 2 Colorado Lawyer cover photos, and numerous articles for the Colorado Lawyer monthly publication.
  • LEAP Speaker, multi-published author, University lectures Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Denver University Law School, Univ. of New Mexico, Las Vegas NM, and many other schools at all levels.