Abert’s Towhee is a shy but engaging bird. This member of the sparrow family has one of the smallest ranges of any bird species, making it a prize sighting for birders; and a familiar face for desert dwellers.
Secretive Abert’s Towhees are described in field guides as residents of thick brush in Sonoran riparian corridors, usually cottonwood and willow woodlands along rivers and streams. Yet a pair of Abert’s hangs around our back yard, kicking and pecking on the ground for insects and seeds. They shelter in the creosote and chuparosa, and sip water trickling from the cement lip of our fountain.
The native waterways that make up Abert’s Towhee’s traditional range have mostly dried up. Growing demands on ground water have brought Arizona’s desert streams to a nonexistent or strictly ephemeral status. Water collects in these channels after rains, but lately the amount is insufficient to bring the water table up to the surface level of the stream beds. Suburban yards, particularly those planted with native species that attract insects and produce seeds, have proven to be havens for these displaced song birds.
Abert’s Towhee is a homebody. He keeps to a small home range and mates for life. In a romantic ritual, the male woos the female by feeding her seeds and the two sing duets together. Throughout the year towhee pairs forage together, calling to each other often, always strengthening their bond. The female weaves a large open cup shaped nest and decorates the outside with flowers. She lays 1-4 eggs, often raising two broods.
Did you know if you see a group of Abert’s Towhees together you can claim you’ve seen a tangle of towhees? Or if it seems appropriate, a teapot of towhees works too.