The Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is a stunning songbird native to the eastern half of the United States - as its name suggests. Female Eastern Towhees are easily differentiated from the male towhee by their plumage.
Female Eastern towhees boast rich brown plumage, whereas the males are black. Females also exhibit several behavioral differences from their male counterparts. Most notably, they are less territorial than males and take on differing responsibilities during nesting.
Females are quiet and more passive when it comes to social interactions, but very protective of their nest and young. They also carry more responsibility before egg hatching.
This article will discuss the characteristics that set the female Eastern towhee apart. Read on to discover more!
Close up of a perched female Eastern Towhee
Male and female Eastern towhees are not sexually dimorphic, meaning their plumage differs, making it easier to differentiate them.
The male Eastern towhee is solid black on his head, back, wings, and tail. His sides and flanks are rusty-orange, and his belly is white. Female Eastern towhees share the same markings. However, the female is rich, earthy brown (rather than black) on her head, back, wings, and tail.
Neither males nor females feature any spotting or streaking in their plumage.
Male Eastern Towhee
Female Eastern Towhee
Female Eastern towhee plumage is reminiscent of a Fall day. Her upper body (head, back, wings, and tail) is warm cinnamon-brown, while her sides and flanks are rufous. The wings and tail also have a few white bars and patches. A female’s breast and belly are solid white.
The tail of the female Eastern towhee is relatively long, with white edges that are visible in flight. Her beak is conical and usually black or charcoal in appearance.
Female Eastern Towhee on the snow
Female Eastern towhees are not bigger than males. On average, a female weighs 32 to 52 grams, while a male averages 32 to 50 grams. The potential difference is insignificant enough to be unnoticeable.
Though it is easiest to recognize a female Eastern towhee by her plumage, these birds also differ from males behaviorally. These differences are noticeable in singing and calls, nesting practices, and territoriality.
These will be discussed in greater detail below.
Male Eastern Towhee foraging for food on the ground
Female Eastern towhees sing, but not in the same way as males.
The female’s song is a raspy, flat shreeee trill, often sung from high perches during mating season. Males have a longer, more complex song that is often translated as drink-your-teeeee. This song is heard most frequently during the breeding season, particularly before egg laying.
Female and male towhees also have a repertoire of other calls they utilize. The chewink call is perhaps most commonly associated with this species. It is given by both sexes, including adults and juveniles.
Chewink is typically considered an alarm call because it is most commonly given when a disturbance occurs near the nest. However, it is used in a variety of situations.
The lisp (or seee) vocalization is another common call given by both sexes. It is generally heard in social contexts, such as between mated pairs, amongst families, or within winter flocks.
The whinny call is the only other vocalization primarily given by females. Typically, whinnies are heard during mating and are paired with other sexual behavior.
Female Eastern Towhee perched on a branch
The female Eastern towhee selects the nest site and constructs the nest on her own, with the male remaining nearby acting as a guard. Nest construction takes about five days to complete.
Once the eggs are laid, the female incubates. She stays on the nest, only leaving periodically to take care of herself. The male occasionally returns with food or to help the female ward off predators. When the eggs hatch, the female begins brooding her young.
During the brooding period, the male brings food for his young and becomes much more attentive than during incubation. When this period ends, both parents provide food for their nestlings.
A Female Eastern Towhee on a platform bird feeder in Ontario, Canada
Female Eastern towhees are far less territorial than males. Males establish their territories and defend them, chasing and fighting off other male competitors.
They even show aggression toward females for a few days before pair bonding occurs.
Male Eastern towhees exhibit intense flight displays when chasing an opponent. These often involve fanned tails and rapid wing beats. Both sexes may perform perched threat displays when a disturbance occurs.
Birds giving this attack signal lower their heads and neck while staring at their opponent with either an open or closed bill.
Female Eastern Towhee foraging for food on the ground
A female Eastern towhee is likely capable of successfully raising young alone, however, success rates may be low. More research would need to be done on this subject.
We do know that males are relatively inattentive during incubation. The female primarily takes care of herself during this period, with the male returning periodically with food or to act as a guard.
However, once nestlings have hatched, the male does become more attentive and is the sole provider of food for the chicks during the brooding period.
For the female to care for herself and her young alone, she would need to leave the nest more frequently, which would leave the nestlings in a more vulnerable state.
Female Eastern Towhee cracking open a sunflower seed
Female Eastern towhees are rich cinnamon-brown on the head, back, wings, and tail. Their sides and flanks are rusty-orange, and their bellies are white.
The female Eastern towhee does call. However, she does not have the same extensive repertoire as a male. Females primarily use the chewink and lisp vocalizations.
Chewink is the towhee's most recognizable call, often used as an alarm. The lisp vocalization is reserved for social interactions.
Female Eastern towhees do have a song that is generally given during mating season. However, it is shorter and less complex than the song males give to attract a mate.
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