A Western Vagrant in NJ
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It has been 14 years since a Green-tailed Towhee has shown up in the Delaware Valley. This morning I headed across the Delaware River into Collingswood, New Jersey where one has been visiting the McDevit’s backyard for the last 5 days. This is a western species that occasionally strays eastwards in winter. It breeds in dense brush in a variety of habitats from the Rockies westwards in the United States, and winters along the southern part of the southeastern states and into central Mexico.
At 7 inches this is the smallest of the 6 towhee species found in the United States. Towhee’s get their name from their call. They belong to the Emberizidae family which includes sparrows, juncos, buntings and longspurs. These are ground dwelling birds with short conical bills that feed on insects in summer and are seed eaters in winter. A characteristic of this family is their habit of foraging in leaf litter with both feet simultaneously, hopping and scratching, known as a double-scratch movement. It was interesting to note that the double-scratching of the Green-tailed Towhee was faster and more furious than that of the White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos in was foraging along side.
This is the 10th record for our area, with 6 previously accepted in New Jersey, 2 in Pennsylvania and 1 in Delaware. If history is any indication, this bird should remain for the winter.