Bird of the Week – The Canyon Towhee

By Ethan Rickards and Bob Walker

Deftly blending into the shrubbery, the Canyon Towhee (Melozone fusca) is unlike other birds in its flying habits. Preferring to strut about on the ground or fly only for brief periods of time (for food or shelter), the Canyon Towhee’s domain is on land instead of the sky. As it runs across desert grasslands, the Canyon Towhee searches for the seeds of grasses and shrubs. Because of these habits these large sparrows have long tails and legs, which aid traveling across the grasslands.

You can find these non-migratory birds anywhere in Los Alamos County at any time of the year, including at the nature center, where they can often be found scurrying underneath the rails of the fences. They are perfectly happy to feed off the seed we provide at the nature center, but they also enjoy picking up moths and other insects. That bird you find lurking underneath your car in the morning, or in your garage, is very likely a Canyon Towhee.

The Canyon Towhee is a loamy brown, with hues of orange under the tail. Adults often have streaks of black underneath their throats. They commonly nest on the ground, at the base of shrubs that provide cover. They are fairly vocal, and you can learn to recognize their characteristic peeping calls and trilling song phrases.

The call: 

The song:

Additional information about the the Canyon Towhee is available at identify.whatbird.com and allaboutbirds.org. Enjoy more beautiful photos of Canyon Towhees at the Brian Small and Jacob Spendelow web sites.