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Towhees' Distractive Plumage

That flash of white can distract a predator
© Navjot Singh View Large

Both this Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee of the West sport a black or dark brown hood and back. And when they fly, their tails flash white. When a hawk gives chase, the towhee's flashing tail-feathers draw the predator's attention. Momentarily distracted, the hawk may come up with just a couple of tail feathers — as the towhee escapes into the underbrush. So if you see a towhee missing a couple of tail feathers, it may be that the flash of white — the distractive plumage — saved its life.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®

Towhees’ Distractive Plumage

Adapted from a script by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote.

[Eastern Towhee and Spotted Towhee songs]

Whether you live in the East or the West, you may have seen towhees. They’re among the most widespread and familiar birds in North America.

Both birds, the Eastern Towhee [Song and call of the Eastern Towhee] and the Spotted Towhee of the West [Song and call of the Spotted Towhee], sport a black or dark brown hood and back. And when they fly, their tails flash white.

When a hawk gives chase, the towhee’s flashing tail-feathers draw the predator’s attention. Momentarily distracted, the hawk may miss seeing the towhee’s darkly colored head and back. As a result, the vital head and breast of the towhee remain protected. The hawk may come up with just a couple of tail feathers – as the towhee escapes into the underbrush.

So if you see a towhee missing a couple of tail feathers, it may be that the flash of white — the distractive plumage — saved its life.

Towhees can be easy to see, because they spend most of their time near the ground. [Leaf- turning sound and call of the Spotted Towhee] This makes them easier for kids to spot. And it makes for a fun expedition to go looking for a towhee and its flashing tail. Watch for a black and orange bird, a little smaller than a robin, scuffling in the leaves. To see photos of the towhee, come to BirdNote.org.

I’m Michael Stein. [Call of the Spotted Towhee]

###

Song of Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Eastern Towhee song ML94294 recorded by W.L. Hershberger; Call of Eastern Towhee 136264 recorded by Martha J. Fischer; Spotted Towhee by G.A.Keller  ML119455. Feeding sounds of the Spotted Towhee by K. Colver.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org   July 2018   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#  towhee-01-2009-07-22-MS-    (some sounds at 072205DEJU & names-02-2008-02-27 & 032505SPTO KPLU)

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