An Eastern Towhee and Wild Turkeys are currently visiting our front yard for the wild bird seed we have been putting on an old stump. We, like most people, have numerous types of bird feeders scattered around our yard. These include suet feeders, platform feeders and a couple hanging tube feeders. But we have also found it works to repurpose natural objects into feeders. One is an old stump about four feet tall, which has an uneven top, and lots of holes where we spread bacon grease, suet or other types of fat. The woodpeckers love to visit this spot and excavate
Someone has found a unique way to attract birds and probably squirrels.
the nooks and crannies for the food we have placed there for them. The other is a tree stump that was cut off a few inches above ground level. There we heap a mixed birdseed that is popular with the two above-mentioned birds, as well as Mourning Doves, Blue Jays and Red-wing Blackbirds.
Each time we add another bird feeding spot or apparatus, we watch the number of avian visitors grow. Mid-summer has been a bonanza of activity. We also have a mix of large deciduous trees and shrubs and one large red pine tree in our front yard. This mix means the birds have lots of places to perch in their forays to the feeders and we have a wonderful chance to observe their behavior. This is especially interesting and entertaining when all the newly fledged birds appear, chasing their beleaguered parents as they continue to beg to be fed.
We are now at the beginning of the end of this incredible, inspiring parade of bird life. Soon, many of these young and their parents are going to follow the sun on its inexorable path to the south. It is a bittersweet time, but we try to live in the moment and enjoy it while we can.
In 1998, the bird that I had learned to identify as a Rufous-sided Towhee was given the new name Eastern Towhee. Ornithological science had decided to split a species that had been considered one – into two. The other was named the Spotted Towhee. DNA studies have allowed us to differentiate birds by more than their physical appearance and if you are a ‘lister’, it’s all the better, because you can add another bird to your life list.
A male Eastern Towhee striking a pose
Eastern Towhees are striking birds with black backs speckled with white, rusty sides and white bellies (the males – females have brown backs). But they are hard to see because they prefer to forage on the ground, often in leaf litter underneath tangled brush and along forest edges. The best chance of seeing one is early in the season when males will perch on a higher branch and sing their courtship call, which I learned to interpret as “drink your teaaaaaaa”. Now, I am told people hear it as “Eastern towheeeeeee”.
The less dramatically colored but still pretty femaled Eastern Towhee
Apparently at least one male chose our neighborhood (and maybe property) to set up a territory. We haven’t seen the female or any young yet, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t successful. We are very pleased that he has discovered our seed covered stump. This has drawn him into an area where we can see him better. As a member of the Sparrow Family – Towhees have heavy beaks best suited for cracking shells of seeds and small nuts.
The lesson to take from this story is to be sure to diversify the wild bird food you put out and put up as many bird feeders as your yard will hold. Then sit back and enjoy the show.
By Kate Crowley