Friday, July 29, 2011

I wore a spotted towhee

In the baby bird nursery at the wildlife center, the littlest songbirds live in an incubator before graduating to a laundry basket with mesh on the sides and a stretchy mesh top. Light comes in but they can't see us very well. They do know, however, when a shadowy, lumpy shape signals a person is approaching. The extroverts in the group, particularly robins, start chattering excitedly because they know it's feeding time.

As I've mentioned before, we offer the birds "dish food"-- lumps of moist food and mealworms in a dish-- with a hemostat before they can have their milkshake, which is a powder mixed with water and fed with a syringe. Some are eager to grow up and eat like adult birds and others want to linger in babyhood being fed liquid. It isn't easy to pick up the right sized piece of food and get it to the bird's gullet without dropping half of it. As a result, feeding anybody smaller than a robin can be a time-consuming challenge.

One day I lifted the mesh fabric stretched across the top of a basket and up popped a fledgling spotted towhee like a piece of popcorn onto my tee shirt. Another hopped onto my hand and yet another onto the hemostat which I was extending into the basket. The fourth sat in the middle of the food dish, preventing me from picking up any food, all of them chirping excitedly. Since I was using my other hand to hold up the mesh top, it took some time to get everybody disentangled and back in the basket where I could start the process of transferring food to bird.

The spotted towhee (go see the Cornell Lab photo!) is one of my local favorites because it's one of the few that isn't yet another little brown bird, known in birdwatching circles as LBB's. In addition to their vivid orange, white and black coloring, they have red eyes with a black pupil. The males look as if they're wearing velvet black hoods with the bright eyes peeking out. They like to forage in leaf litter. The leaf litter in my yard is under the arbor vitae, Alanis' favorite lounging spot. If there are any towhees in my neighborhood, they're not in my yard. I think they don't want to share space with an Airedale.


  1. sounds like a nice visit at the wild life center. Those birds are very beautiful.

  2. Wish we had a place like this around us.

  3. The wildlife center sounds wonderful, and that Towhee's markings are so striking!

  4. That is so cool!! Have never seen a towhee, but mom knew a lady with that nickname.hehe. 2 Red Breasted Nuthatches have killed themselves on our baywindow this past week. Mommy gets so sad when she sees their lifeless bodies.

    Smooches from pooches,
    BRD & HOotie