Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE TOWHE GROUND-FINCH.
[Rufous-sided Towhee (see also Arctic Ground-Finch).]
PIPILO ERYTHROPHTHALMUS, Linn.
PLATE CXCV.--MALE AND FEMALE.
The flight of the Towhe Bunting is short, low, and performed from one bush
or spot to another, in a hurried manner, with repeated strong jerks of the tail,
and such quick motions of the wings, that one may hear their sound, although the
bird should happen to be out of sight. On the ground, where it is more usually
to be seen, it hops lightly, without moving the tail more than the Common
Sparrow of Europe. It is a diligent bird, spending its days in searching for
food and gravel, amongst the dried leaves and in the earth, scratching with
great assiduity, and every now and then uttering the notes towhee, from which it
has obtained its name. At other times, it ascends to the top of a small tree,
or its favourite low bushes and briars, on which it sings very sweetly a few
continued mellow notes.
This species constructs a larger nest than birds of its size usually do,
and scoops out a place for its foundation in the earth, sometimes in an open
spot, more commonly at the foot of a small sapling or large bunch of tall grass.
The nest is sunk into the ground, so as to be level with it at top, and is
composed of dried leaves and the bark of vines, lined with grasses of fine
texture, as well as fibrous roots. The female lays from four to six eggs, and
rears two, sometimes three, broods each season. If disturbed while sitting, she
moves off apparently in great agony, but with more celerity than most other
birds, by which means she generally prevents her nest being discovered. Snakes,
however, suck the eggs, as does the Crow. The young leave the nest long before
they are able to fly, and follow the mother about on the ground for several
days. Some of the nests of this species are so well concealed, that in order to
discover them, one requires to stand quite still on the first appearance of the
mother. I have myself several times had to regret not taking this precaution.
The favourite haunts of the Towhe Buntings are dry barren tracts, but not,
as others have said, low and swampy grounds, at least during the season of
incubation. In the Barrens of Kentucky they are found in the greatest
Their migrations are performed by day, from bush to bush, and they seem to
be much at a loss when a large extent of forest is to be traversed by them.
They perform these journeys almost singly. The females set out before the males
in autumn, and the males before the females in spring, the latter not appearing
in the Middle Districts until the end of April, a fortnight after the males have
arrived. Many of them pass the confines of the United States in their
migrations southward and northward.
Although these birds are abundant in all parts of the Union, they never
associate in flocks, but mingle during winter with several species of Sparrow.
They generally rest on the ground at night, when many are caught by weasels and
other small quadrupeds. None of them breed in Louisiana, nor indeed in the
State of Mississippi, until they reach the open woods of the Choctaw Indian
I have represented the male and female moving through the twigs of the
common briar, usually called the black briar. It is a plump bird, and becomes
very fat in winter, in consequence of which it is named Grasset in Louisiana,
where many are shot for the table by the French planters.
Male, 8 1/2, 12.
Breeds from Texas along the Atlantic districts, as well as in the
interior, northward to Labrador. Abundant. Migratory.
TOWHE BUNTING, Emberiza erythrophthalma, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ii. p. 35.
FRINGILLA ERYTHROPHTHALMA, Bonap. Syn., p. 112.
GROUND ROBIN or TOWHE FINCH, Fringilla erythrophthalma, Nutt. Man., vol. i.p. 515.
TOWHE BUNTING, Fringilla erythrophthalma, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 150;vol. v. p. 511.
Bill short, robust, narrower than the head, regularly conical, acute; upper
mandible almost straight in its dorsal outline, as is the lower, both having
inflected edges; the gap-line nearly straight, a little deflected at the base.
Nostrils basal, roundish, open, partially concealed by the feathers. Head
rather large, neck shortish, body robust. Legs of moderate length, rather
robust; tarsus longer than the middle toe, covered anteriorly with a few longish
scutella; toes scutellate above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws
slender, arched, compressed, acute, that of the hind toe long.
Plumage rather compact above, soft and blended beneath. Wings of ordinary
length, the third and fourth quills longest, the first much shorter, the
secondaries short. Tail long, rounded, the lateral feathers slightly curved
outwards towards the tip.
Bill black. Iris bright red. Legs and claws pale yellowish-brown. Head,
neck, and upper parts generally, deep black. A white band across the primaries,
partly concealed by their coverts; outer edge of first quill white; margins of
the last secondaries brownish-white. Lateral tail-feathers white, excepting at
the base, and a longitudinal streak towards the tip, on the outer web; the next
two white on the inner web, towards the end. Breast white, abdomen pale red;
sides and lateral parts of the breast brownish-red.
Length 8 1/2 inches, extent of wings 12; beak along the ridge 1/2, along
the gap 2/3; tarsus 1 1/3, middle toe 1, hind toe 5/6.
The female is scarcely smaller, and differs from the male in having the
parts which in him are of a deep black, reddish-brown, excepting the bill, which
is almost entirely light blue, the ridge of the upper mandible only being dark
Length 8 1/4 inches.
In the adult bird the iris is bright red, but in the young it is frequently
brown, and sometimes yellowish-white. In some instances, one eye is brown and
the other red.
In an adult male preserved in spirits, the palate is ascending and deeply
concave; its two longitudinal ridges uniting in front, where there is a
considerable soft prominence; the upper mandible beneath flat, with a median
ridge and two lateral, broad and flattened ridges. The width of the mouth is
5 3/4 twelfths. Posterior aperture of the nares linear, and strongly papillate,
as in all the species. Tongue 5 1/2 twelfths long, fleshy above, toward the end
horny, convex, and with a median groove. OEsophagus 2 inches 4 twelfths long,
its greatest width 3 twelfths. Stomach a strong muscular gizzard, 6 twelfths
long, 10 1/2 twelfths broad; the epithelium dense and longitudinally rugous.
Contents of stomach, seeds and husks of barley. Intestine 9 1/4, inches long,
2 twelfths in width; the coeca 4 1/2 twelfths long, 1 1/2 twelfths in breadth,
1 1/2 inches from the extremity; rectum very slightly dilated.
Trachea 1 inch 7 1/2 twelfths long, 1 twelfth in breadth; its rings 75,
besides 2 dimidiate rings. Bronchi very slender, of 15 half rings. The muscles
as in all the other species.
RUBUS VILLOSUS, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. ii. p. 1085. Pursch, Fl. Amer.,vol. i. p. 346.,--ICOSANDRIA POLYGNIA, Linn.--ROSACEAE, Juss.
Pubescent, prickly, with angular twigs; the leaves ternate or quinate, with
ovato-oblong, serrate, acuminate leaflets, downy on both sides; the calycine
leaves short, acuminate; and a loose raceme of white flowers. The berry is
black. This species grows abundantly in old fields and by fences.