Rufous-sided TWOhee

Maybe I have just not had my ears on all these years here on Goose Creek.

The Towhee is one of the most common birds we share our space with, and a bird that doesn’t mind getting close to human habitations. There’s been one just below my window since first light doing the chicken-scratch/jump back thing under our foundation plantings.

But until this morning, I never heard one alternate between TWO different Drink YOUR Tea calls, one the characteristic whistled YOUR and the second, a buzzy trill.

Any other bird brains out there run across this variation of call? Is it my one virtuosic bird that does this or a common melodic phenomenon?

Click this link to listen; I cut out silent space between calls, and left the creek noise in the background of this 6 second clip.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Not that I am familiar with your towhee (and I had to go into an old guide to find it…Seems they separated it into two species at some point, spotted and eastern), but I found this on-line…

    Songs are variable within and among populations at both macro- and microgeographic scales (Borror 1959, 1975, Ewert 1978, Ewert and Kroodsma 1994, Molnar 1977). Songs of individual males also variable; each male has repertoire of different song patterns or types that is stable from year to year (Ewert and Kroodsma 1994). Average repertoire size varies geographically; larger in Florida, where birds are resident (mean: 8 song types/male, range 4—11), than in New York, where they are migratory (mean: 3.5 song types/male, range 2—5; Ewert and Kroodsma 1994). In New Jersey, Molnar (1977) reported mean of 4.5 song patterns/male (range 3—8, n = 6 males). Borror (1959, 1975) identified maximum repertoire sizes of 8 (Florida) and 22 (Ohio), but because he included minor, transitional variants in his song type counts for given birds, his values of repertoire size may be inflated (Ewert and Kroodsma 1994). Typically, male sings same song pattern for a while before changing to another one in its repertoire.via Eastern Towhee – Sounds – Birds of North America Online.

  2. Very useful, Gary, and I will now know to pay closer attention to variations that are signatures of individual birds–at least until they toss one combo for another and I think it is suddenly a different bird. At any rate, all of this does make one pay closer attention to the “ordinary” sounds we too often do not attend.

  3. I love the towhees! I have one male that seems to have lost its mate. I am supposing that some predator caught her since they are ground nesting. This makes me sad as I hear his calls throughout the day. He sounds so forlorn! His territory is shifting further and further from the house, now. He is in competition with another male whose mate is nesting in the palmettos near the pier. We are on our second nesting periods here with most of our birds.