Backyard bird sightings

“There’s a bird outside the window,” I said. “I think it’s a Spotted Towhee.” I turned to look at my dad who was cooking at the stove. “Is that the right name for them…? I can’t remember if that’s the new name or the old name…”
“A Spotted Towhee?!” My dad sounded excited. He dropped the wooden spoon onto the counter and quickly walked over to look out the window over the sink. “Wow,” he said, “and look! There’s a baby!”
There was indeed a baby—fluffy, slightly disheveled, and not as distinctly colored as its parent.
“Look—it can’t fly yet,” my dad went on. I looked. It was hopping around on the lattice archway. The parent bird flew back and forth between the lattice and a nearby tree, but the baby stayed put, hopping, a couple of times nearly falling through the square holes.

baby towhee behind leavesTry as I might, I couldn’t really capture the baby Towhee on film. Everywhere it hopped, there was always lattice or leaves in the way. Photo by Ryan Weisberg
Spotted Towhee babyThis is what they look like without lattice and leaves in the way… (photo courtesy of Google images)

My confusion over old names and new names happens a lot with birds. The Spotted Towhee was formerly known as the Rufous-sided Towhee, before it was discovered to be a different species than the Eastern Towhee. Now both birds have different names. The same thing happened with one of my favorites, the Winter Wren, which now refers to the Eastern species, while Pacific Wren is our Western species of the little brown bird.
Though I do enjoy the company of small birds with beautiful songs, I can only identify six of the small-to-medium-sized variety of birds by sight, five of which I also know by ear. I would say that I’m working on this, but that would be only half true. I seem to enjoy learning about birds when I’m able to just pick up little bits of information. If I sit down and try to study it, I lose interest. Not so for plants, but for some reason this is how it is for me with birds. I guess the birder inside me is still a work in progress…

Leading photo: Adult Spotted Towhee. (courtesy of Google images)

Ryan Weisberg is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Ryan grew up here in Washington, exploring the natural areas around Bellingham and in the Cascades. Ryan is the Chattermarks editor this year during their residency at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.


  1. Ms Jerry Rutherford

    Thanks for sharing, Ryan. I remember my first Elderhostel with your parents–over near Twisp/Sun Mountain—watching a wren building a nest–flying out to get “building material”–flying back and singing its song each trip. Great memories.

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