Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Eastern Towhee, PIPILO ERYTHROPHTHALMUS

from the the April 22, 2012 Newsletter issued from the woods of the Loess Hill Region a few miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA
TOWHEE AT BREAKFAST

Often during my campfire breakfast a certain male Eastern Towhee orbits around me lustily calling "DRINK-your-TEEEEEEEEE... " while busily foraging. You can see him caught in mid stride above.

That picture is a little curious because he's moving sideways along a fallen stem, but towhees are hopping-forwards birds, not walkers or runners, so he's having to twist his body funnily to coordinate it all. Notice the leg behind him blurring with speed. I'm not surprised to see such dexterity, however, because often you hear towhees scratching noisily in leaf litter below nearby shrubbery before you see them. They scratch like old hens, their feet working like crazy.


from the August 8, 2004 Newsletter issued from the woods of the Loess Hill Region a few miles south of Natchez, Mississippi, USA
DEW-BATHING TOWHEE

Early Tuesday morning before the dew had begun burning off I noticed a commotion at the forest's edge. That particular spot was very densely vegetated with Chinese Privet up through which grew blackberry canes and honeysuckle, and the whole thicket was topped with a canopy of grapevine.

My binoculars revealed a young Eastern Towhee still wearing his brown, streak-breasted juvenile plumage, and he was taking a dew bath. Systematically he'd pull himself up to the thicket's grapevine roof and then body-surf one or two feet down a downward-arching cascade of wet leaves or else he'd position himself atop the vegetation's surface and simply flutter his wings, twist his body, throw his head back, and let himself sink through the dew-slick herbage. After about ten minutes his feathers were dark with wetness and then he flew to a perch to preen exactly as if he'd taken a puddle-bath.

The young towhee's body language clearly indicated that he regarded his bath as a pleasure, not a task. It was the bird's first August and he was just learning how an August fog can coalesce into a blissfully cool, wet dew. What a revelation it would be if I could just see the world for a moment through the eyes and mind of that young bird rejoicing so prettily in his wet leaves.

I've seen a lot of dew bathing among birds and I'm surprised that it's seldom mentioned in the literature. In the November 11th, 2001 Newsletter (www.backyardnature.net/n/01/011111.htm) I wrote about a Brown Thrasher, a Cardinal and several Yellow- rumped Warblers dew-bathing among Sweetgum leaves in the Broomsedge Field. In the online notes from my 1996 birding trip in Mexico, I describe Clay-colored Sparrows appearing to teach Yellow-rumped Warblers how to dew-bathe on dew-wet Mesquite leaves (www.backyardnature.net/mexbirds/02mesqit.htm). Sometimes when I've been in the desert and low on water, I've dew-bathed myself, and it's surprising how effective and refreshing it can be.