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Critters of the Week

Critters of the Week

A wild critter we spotted in the RVA area and a critter up for adoption by the Richmond SPCA.

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East Coast Towhee aka Eastern Towhee vs. West Coast Towhee aka Spotted Towhee

First up the Eastern Towhee (seen above)

Where Spotted: Westover Hills
Common Name: Eastern Towhee
Scientific Name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Length: 6.8-8.2 in (17.3-20.8 cm)
Weight: 1.1-1.8 oz (32-52 g)
Wingspan: 7.9-11.0 in (20-28 cm)

Quick Facts (Courtesy Cornell Lab)

  • Eastern Towhees are birds of the undergrowth, where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size.
  • The Eastern Towhee and the very similar Spotted Towhee of western North America used to be considered the same species, the Rufous-sided Towhee. The two forms still occur together in the Great Plains, where they sometimes interbreed.
  • Eastern Towhees are common victims of the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird. Female cowbirds lay eggs in towhee nests, then leave the birds to raise their cowbird young. In some areas cowbirds lay eggs in more than half of all towhee nests. Towhees, unlike some other birds, show no ability to recognize or remove the imposter’s eggs.
  • Eastern Towhees tend to be pretty solitary, and they use a number of threat displays to tell other towhees they’re not welcome. You may see contentious males lift, spread, or droop one or both wings, fan their tails, or flick their tails to show off the white spots at the corners. Studies have shown that male towhees tend to defend territories many times larger than needed simply to provide food.
  • The oldest known Eastern Towhee was a male in South Carolina, and at least 12 years, 3 months old.

Now the Spotted Towhee

The only real difference more spots on the Spotted Towhee and of course habitat.

Where Spotted: Anacortes, Washington
Common Name: Spotted Towhee
Scientific Name: Pipilo maculatus
Length: 6.7-8.3 in (17-21 cm)
Weight: 1.2-1.7 oz (33-49 g)
Wingspan: 11.0 in (28 cm)

Quick Facts Courtesy of Cornell Labs

  • Watch a Spotted Towhee feeding on the ground; you’ll probably observe its two-footed, backwards-scratching hop. This “double-scratching” is used by a number of towhee and sparrow species to uncover the seeds and small invertebrates they feed on. One Spotted Towhee with an unusable, injured foot was observed hopping and scratching with one foot.
  • The Spotted Towhee and the very similar Eastern Towhee used to be considered the same species, the Rufous-sided Towhee. The two forms still occur together in the Great Plains, where they sometimes interbreed. This is a common evolutionary pattern in North American birds – a holdover from when the great ice sheets split the continent down the middle, isolating birds into eastern and western populations that eventually became new species.
  • Early in the breeding season, male Spotted Towhees spend their mornings singing their hearts out, trying to attract a mate. Male towhees have been recorded spending 70 percent to 90 percent of their mornings singing. Almost as soon as they attract a mate, their attention shifts to other things, and they spend only about 5 percent of their time singing.
  • Spotted Towhees live in drier habitats than Eastern Towhees. Some scientists have suggested that the bold white spots on Spotted Towhees’ backs help them blend in to the sun-dappled undergrowth.
  • The oldest recorded Spotted Towhee was a male, and at least 11 years old when he was recaught and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2010.

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Happy Slider at Richmond SPCA

Age: 7 years, 2 months
Gender: Neutered Male
Color: Grey / White
ID: 51326596

Hello friends, my name is Happy Slider and I’m here to find a family of my very own. I haven’t always known the comfort of a home and I think the world is a pretty scary place at times. I need someone special like you to show me plenty of patience and kindness to help me overcome my fears and gain confidence. If you think that you can show me the devotion I deserve, then won’t you please be my hero and ask about adopting me today?

Adopt Happy Slider at Richmond SPCA

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.