A familiar sound at the arboretum is the rustle of leaves from Spotted Towhees foraging. They hop backward with both feet to sweep away the leaf litter in search of food. Their diet consists of insects, spiders, seeds, acorns, and berries.

Towhees stay in the security of dense shrubs or right along the edge where they can quickly retreat to safety. Additionally, their spotted pattern and earth-tone coloration make them well camouflaged.

They have an interesting call note that you can often hear as they communicate with one another. Peterson describes the sound like a “catlike gu-eeee?.” Personally, their call reminds me of the mysterious, prehistoric past when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I amusingly imagine a baby pterodactyl calling for its mom.

Their songs are more friendly and sweet-sounding. Peterson describes it as a “chup chup chup zeeeeeeee” or a “drawn-out, buzzy chweeeeee.” Click here to go to the Audubon website to listen to their songs and calls.

Birds also communicate nonverbally. When watching Spotted Towhees you will often see them flicking their tail feathers open. In a flash, white patches on their outer tail feathers are revealed. On Cornell’s website All About Birds, this behavior indicates that the bird is being disturbed or alarming to signal potential danger. This could also be a way for them to silently check in with their companion nearby without having to call to them and possibly reveal their location.

Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.

See more of Bryan’s work here.