Stella Watson took these photos of a California Towhee hopping around after a snowstorm.
The California Towhee (Melozone crissalis) is actually a type of sparrow, and their name is pronounced tow-wee rather tow-hee, despite the spelling. These are common birds of the chaparral, and they typically fly furtively from shrub to shrub, rather than being fully exposed with long flights up in the sky.
Towhees in woodlands and chaparral can often be heard making their “dropped ball” sound, when they start with a single metallic chip note followed by a second one, which then rapidly accelerates to a chip…chip…chip-chip-chipchipchipchip call which then stops abruptly, like a basketball dropped and allowed to bounce itself to a halt.
This call is reminiscent of the single bark alarm call given by California Ground Squirrels, though the Towhee’s call tends to be quieter and not as sharp, and accelerates into a trill, which the squirrel’s loud, evenly-spaced bark never does.
Towhees typically forage for seeds among leaf litter and duff, and they will also feed on berries and invertebrates like insects, particularly when they are feeding their nestlings. When looking among mulch for seeds or arthropods, California Towhees frequently use a two-footed backwards hop, after which they peer down at the soil to see if they exposed anything edible.
Although they are mostly gray birds, they have rusty fawn coloration around their bill and under their tail.
NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: email@example.com.
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