califtowheerrr11

Ramrod Ranch, Monterey, California 2014

Your first encounter with a California Towhee may be prompted by a tireless knocking at your window or car mirror: these common backyard birds habitually challenge their reflections. But California Towhees are at heart birds of the tangled chaparral and other hot scrublands of California and Oregon. You’re as likely to hear their bright chip notes along a secluded trail as on your way out your front door. If you live in the Southwest, look for this bird’s twin, the Canyon Towhee.

Size & Shape
California Towhees are essentially large sparrows, with a sparrow’s short, rounded wings, long tail, and thick, seed-cracking beak – but towhees are larger and bulkier. The long tail and short wings can give this bird an ungainly look in flight.

Color Pattern
Few birds are as uniformly matte brown as a California Towhee. A patch under the tail (called the crissum, giving the bird its scientific name) is a noticeably warmer ruddy brown. Males look the same as females.

Behavior
California Towhees hop or run on the ground but tend to stay close to the protection of low shrubs and trees. When not foraging they may perch on shrubs, rooftops, and backyard fences, to sit and chip for long periods. In flight they look out of practice, using lots of wingpower to travel short distances.

Habitat
California Towhees live in chaparral and other tangled, shrubby, and dry habitats. They’re also at home in the small backyards and neighborhood parks of lowland California towns.

Cool Facts

  • Taxonomists used to consider the California Towhee and the almost identical Canyon Towhee the same species, the Brown Towhee. The Abert’s Towhee looks quite different from these two species, but evidence suggests it may actually be the California Towhee’s closest relative, rather than the Canyon Towhee.
  • Poison oak is one of the hazards of outdoor recreation in California. It lines trails and covers hillsides, seemingly lying in wait to inflict its itchy, weeping rash on the unwary. But it’s also an integral part of the landscape and part of the daily life of California Towhees. Many towhees build their nests in poison oak and feast on the plant’s copious crops of pale white berries.
  • The Inyo California Towhee is restricted to riparian habitat in the Argus Mountains of central California. It is threatened by the destruction of the habitat, largely the result of foraging by feral burros.
  • The oldest known California Towhee was male, and at least 12 years, 10 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 1986. He had been banded in the same state in 1973.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Towhee/id

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