Abert's Towhee

Pipilo aberti

Abert's Towhee, Pipilo aberti, photo © by Michael Plagens taken at Gilbert Riparian Preserve taken on 14 Feb 2009

This wary bird was partially obscured from view by some vegetation. Nonetheless the conical bill, black facial mask, and long tail are clearly visible. Observed at Gilbert Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, Arizona, USA. 14 Feb. 2009. Rich Ditch has managed a much clearer photo.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Mostly plain brown to gray in color. Small black mask on face around bill. Sturdy sparrow-beak. Long tail. A bit of tawny color on underside of rump. Large, but slightly smaller than a robin.

These large sparrows prefer habitats with thick vegetation with partial shade. For example in gallery forests along riparian streams and mesquite bosques. Irrigated yards and orchards in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area are suitable habitat. Despite the thousands of stray/loose house cats in the cities of the Sonoran Desert these birds are able to survive and nest on the ground. One way they do this is to almost always work in pairs as they search for food on the ground. One of the pair will always be more intent on watching for danger and the two stay in constant contact via short, sharp calls. On spotting even the remotest danger they give a sharper call that warns the other and they both fly up and into cover away from danger.

These are among the very first birds of early morning to begin calling to each other - often with the very first hint of dawn light in the east. Abert's Towhee visit bird feeders with seed and also eat fallen fruit such as dates and olives. When feeding they use their feet to kick away loose leaves and debris exposing hidden beetles, grubs and seeds. A similar bird found mostly in the foothills in more open habitat is the Canyon Towhee.

Year-round Resident - Spring and Summer Breeder

Sponsored Links:

More Information:

Sonoran Desert Field Guide
Sonoran Desert Places
Sonoran Desert Naturalist Home Page

Copyright Michael J. Plagens, 1999-2011