Illustration by Peter Burke
The eastern behaves similarly to the spotted towhee. Length 7.5" (19 cm).
Identification Conspicuous white corners on tail and white patch at base of primaries. Male: black upperparts, hood; rufous sides, white underparts. Female: black areas replaced by brown. Juvenile: brownish streaks below.
Geographic Variation Four subspecies show weak to moderate variation. Bird’s overall size and the extent of white in its wings and tail decline from the northern part of the range to the Gulf Coast; bill, leg, and foot sizes increase. The large nominate subspecies (breeds in North) has red irides, most extensive white in tail. Smaller alleni of Florida paler and duller, with straw-colored irides. Intermediate southern subspecies canaster (west) and rileyi (east) have variably orange to straw-colored irides.
Similar Species See spotted towhee.
Voice Call: emphatic, upslurred chewink; in alleni, a clearer, even-pitched or upslurred swee. Also a high-pitched szeeueet, dropping in middle (poss. flight note). Various chips when agitated. Song: loud ringing drink your tea, sometimes with additional notes at beginning or shortened to drink tea.
Status and Distribution Fairly common. Breeding: partial to second growth with dense shrubs and extensive leaf litter, coastal scrub or sand dune ridges, and mature southern pinelands. Migration: resident, except for partially migratory nominate subspecies. Migration primarily October and March. Vagrant: casual to Colorado and New Mexico. Accidental to Arizona, Idaho, and Europe.
Population Recent declines, especially in North, are due to urbanization. Southern populations more stable.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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