Stanley Park Ecology Society: Meet The Spotted Towhee

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StanleyParkEcologyThis post has been contributed by Don Enright, Volunteer and Past President with the Stanley Park Ecology Society (“SPES”). I have been following SPES since I moved into the West End almost a decade ago and I have been a member for two years. I wanted to offer the team an opportunity to share their news, events, and work so I have created “SPES Saturday” where they contribute and share stories with my audience once a month.

Meet The Spotted Towhee

Next time you’re needing a flash of colour and a spark of charisma to brighten your winter day, take a walk in Stanley Park and keep your eyes peeled for the spotted towhee, one of the prettiest birds to call Vancouver home.

A towhee scratches for tasty seeds and grubs. (Photo: Michael Schmidt)

Their long, trilling song can be heard from quite a ways away. Towhees are famous for singing “Drink! Your! Teeeeeeee!” but our birds seem to want to shorten it to simply, “Teeeeee!” Once you learn that call, you’ll have no trouble finding towhees wherever you wander in Stanley Park. They’re wonderfully common, which is not to say that they’re vulgar; far from it. Spotted towhees are elegant little birds, perhaps the most beautiful member of the sparrow family. With their rufous-red sides, deep red eyes and chic black and white spotting, they look a bit like some tropical caged bird that has made its escape. But just watch them foraging for a few minutes, and their behaviour is pure sparrow: they jump forward, scratch into the forest floor with both feet at once, and then jump backwards, raking the duff with their little claws to expose seeds and grubs.

Towhees are among the few songbirds that remain faithful to each other, not only throughout the breeding season but from year to year, too. Our tree swallows appear monogamous, but research shows that they are secretly stepping out behind each other’s back with surprising regularity. And chickadees have a divorce rate that rivals our own, believe it or not. But towhees are in it for the long term, and it seems to be working for them; they’re one of the more successful songbirds in the region, adapting to city, semi-rural and forest life equally well.

A towhee rests on a Stanley Park bench. (Photo: Michael Schmidt) (Photo: Michael Schmidt)

Take a walk along Lost Lagoon, and stop at the concrete bridge—that’s where many of the local winter songbirds hang out. Wait just a moment, watch for that flash of rufous, and listen for that trademark call. The spotted towhees will be waiting for you.

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