A few days ago this juvenile bird was hanging out in the tree near our front porch. It became spooked when I moved a little and flew to a tree on the other side of our fence. Since it was still within a fairly good range, I took a few more photos of him (or her) while he preened.
Initially I thought it was a Brown Thrasher because of its colors, but then I noticed the bill- this bird has a somewhat short, stout bill while a Brown Thrasher has a longer, curved bill. I browsed through photos of birds that are commonly seen in our state but couldn't find a close enough match. I had never paid notice to this species of birds before and wondered what it was.
I posted a pic of it on the Birdluvrs Birding and Bird ID Group (on Facebook) and asked if anyone could identify it. I received a reply this morning from a group member who identified it as an Eastern Towhee.
When comparing my photos of this bird to photos of juvenile Eastern Towhees online, there are some definitive features which lead me to believe that this bird is indeed an Eastern Towhee.
There is a reasonable explanation of why I haven't seen this bird before. According to information listed on several birding sites, the Eastern Towhee is a year round resident of the south and eastern U.S., but they are ground foragers and spend most of their feeding time concealed beneath thick underbrush. Additionally, many of them migrate north to their breeding grounds during summer. This bird is more often heard than seen because it is known to sing from the branches of low trees or shrubs.
The adult male Towhee (photo on right from Cornell Lab of Ornithology) are sooty black above and on the breast, with warm rufous sides and white on the belly. Females have the same pattern, but are rich brown where the males are black.
This bird is a large sparrow- identified by the thick, triangular, seed-cracking bill and the chunky body and long, rounded tail. Eastern Towhees spend most of their time on the ground, scratching at leaves using both feet at the same time, in a kind of backwards hop.
Eastern Towhees are common victims of the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird. Female cowbirds lay eggs in towhee nests, then leave the birds to raise their cowbird young. In some areas cowbirds lay eggs in more than half of all towhee nests. Towhees, unlike some other birds, show no ability to recognize or remove the imposter’s eggs. Female cowbirds typically take out a towhee egg when laying their own, making the swap still harder to notice.
Perhaps I'll spot an adult Towhee sooner or later, foraging in the leaves along the nearby forest edges. I just got lucky to see this juvenile make a rare appearance at our feeder. A stroke of good luck comes around every now and then :)