[Tweeters] Odd Spotted Towhee

Connie Sidles constancesidles at gmail.com
Thu Apr 10 04:20:17 PDT 2014

Hey tweets, two weeks ago, my son Alex took a nine-day kayak trip through the Columbia River Gorge, camping along the way. At one of the campsites on an island in the river, he discovered a Spotted Towhee with straw-colored eyes, *very* pale. When I picked him up at his takeout point, he asked me if I had ever seen anything like that. I hadn’t, at least not in the western US.

We both got very excited, thinking maybe he had found a young eastern US bird (some of which do have very pale eyes, a trait carried into adulthood by a few individuals as well). After doing some research, however, we concluded that it was more likely that pale-iris genes exist more widely in Spotted Towhee populations than the literature would have us believe.

For a discussion about eye color in Spotted/Eastern Towhees, you might be interested in this link:


The article is a little frustrating because eye color is not preserved in skins (which mainly have white cotton for eyes), nor was it reliably reported in the field by students who shot birds for study. But still it is a very interesting article which, at the very least, encourages us to pay closer attention to aging birds in the field when we can. For me, anything that encourages me to stop and observe rather than just tick off another bird I’ve seen and ID’ed is good. After all these years and all my writing, I guess I’m still a lister at heart, and I can easily find myself rushing through a site ticking off birds as fast as I can without taking the time to slow down, connect, and absorb whatever it is the birds have to teach me about themselves, nature in general, and human nature in particular.

By the way, yesterday at the Fill was superb. A pair of Cinnamon Teals were looking like they were settling in for a little parenting near Shoveler’s Pond (which also hosted a Greater Yellowlegs the day before). Four species of gulls were harvesting worms in the IMA field north of Clark Road (Mew, Ring-billed, California, and Glaucous-winged). And a perfectly lovely female Northern Harrier floated by high overhead on her migration north, the sun shining through her pale wing feathers like light through cathedral windows. Wow. - Connie, Seattle

constancesidles at gmail.com

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