Eastern Towhee Video Portrait

Creating video portraits of birds can be very pleasurable indeed, especially if one has high quality material to draw from. Thus was the case when I constructed my portrait of the Eastern Towhee (Rufous-sided Towhee), using footage gathered around my hometown of Ithaca, New York, during both 2009 and 2010. My mouth watered as I worked with the introductory clip, where I had intentionally placed the bird off-center to accommodate the title—I absolutely love the rich yet delicate hues drawn-out by the muted light of the understory. The second clip, too, excited me greatly, with its bright and intense colors brought alive by direct sun.

Working with the sound track was also fulfilling. Luckily, my friends Beth Bannister and Bob McGuire had recorded with sound parabolas while I did the videotaping. So all the songs and calls are clean and clear. I then added a pleasing ambience (dawn chorus) from the same general location, giving the sound track spaciousness and masking sudden transitions. I trust you will enjoy the show!

placeholder image for the Eastern Towhee video clip by Lang Elliott

The call of the Eastern Towhee sounds like tchweee or toweee, which accounts for the species’ common name. The song is generally three-parted and is often likened to the phrase “drink your teeeeee,” which I refer to as the “classic song pattern.” Each male has several different song types in his repertoire (up to ten or more in the South but only two or three in northern areas), and many of these song patterns may deviate considerably from the classic pattern. Usually, he will sing one song type for a couple of minutes before switching to a different pattern. However, at the break of dawn when a male first begins singing, he will move through his song repertoire more rapidly. Note in the following recording how the male cycles through several (four) different song patterns within his first minute of singing:

Eastern Towhee singing at dawn, 6am, 27 May 2008, at Long Pine Key Campground in the Everglades National Park, Florida. Recorded by Lang Elliott.

The Eastern Towhee was recently split from the Spotted Towhee of the West. It ranges over most of the eastern half of the United States:

Range map for the Eastern Towheeclick for large map with color codes


  1. What wonderful videos indeed! I love to watch the towhee sing! I wish I has a camera as good as yours.

    I think it’s strange how the Eastern Towhees in the South have multiple songs. It should be called the “Southern Towhee.”

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