What Is This Junco or Sparrow with the Dark Head, White V Tail Feathers and Rusty Red Sides?

On an October walk at the Rattray Marsh, I was not surprised to see a small bird flying away from me flashing a V of white tail feathers. Juncos start to arrive back in the GTA from their summer nesting homes further north as early as late September. But this “Junco” was too large and it was not just grey and white, it had bright rusty red on its sides. I was very pleased to see it as I hadn’t seen one since spring migration and then only briefly.

The Rufous-sided Towhee Is Now Called the Eastern Towhee at Least By Some Sources

Photo of Rufous Sided Towhee Male On NaturalCrooksDotCom

When I was growing up, this colourful bird was called a Rufous-sided Towhee. Now, they are called Eastern Towhees in some books and online resources. Either name, it’s the same bird.

They are not unusual birds especially on migration. Other people have them come and stay visiting their feeders for days at a time. They take splendid photographs of the vividly coloured males. They casually add the bird to their eBird lists.

Photo of Eastern Towhee As I Usually See One on NaturalCrooksDotCom
This is my typical photo of an Eastern Towhee!

Not me. I only seem to see them as they fly away or drop down into thick vegetation to hunt for seeds and insects never to be found again, by me. I’ve wanted to take a photo of one for a few years but I’ve always “just missed” the ones at public feeders. So although I only took one clear photograph of this male Towhee, I am still pleased. It’s one more than before!

What Does Towhee Mean?

According to my ancient copy of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region, the word Towhee is meant to describe the bird’s call.  This name was given by a naturalist and birder in 1731. Unfortunately, the call is quite variable across its wide range so it might not be useful in helping to locate a Towhee skulking in the underbrush.

I hope I get to see another Towhee this fall but if not I’ll be on the watch in the spring. They don’t actually move much further north than southern Ontario to breed, so I should also pay more attention to eBird reports in the summer.

Photo of Eastern Towhee Male Lakeside April on naturalcrooksdotcom
I found one in April 2016 on migration!

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Do you get Towhees visiting your feeder showing off their attractive colouring? Or have you only seen one as it flits away? Please share your sighting with a comment.

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