You have probably noticed some of the birds that feed in your backyard rarely dine above ground. They seem perfectly content to feed on the seeds tossed or scratched out of elevated feeders. These birds are part of the backyard cleanup crew. One of my favorite members of this the crew is the eastern towhee. The eastern towhee is a bird that spends much of its life close to terra firma. During the winter, the towhees that inhabit my yard can routinely be heard uttering their familiar “towhee” or “joree” call from the thick shrubs that border the north and south sides of my property. Even then, the birds are calling within less than ten feet of the earth.
While quietly walking about my yard in winter, I often hear them scratching through the leaf litter that accumulates beneath the shrubs. At times, I have been lucky enough to witness this fascinating behavior as they searched for seeds hidden beneath the leaves. It is truly amazing how much energy the birds put into this activity. If you see it, you will be surprised how high and far they can toss dead leaves.
During the winter seeds, berries and other plant material comprise 80 percent of their diet. Most of these seeds are found away from our feeders. These foods include loblolly pine and sweetgum seeds, acorns, yaupon, red cedar, honeysuckle, waxmyrtle, and yaupon berries, as well as the meats of pecans and hickory nuts.
Beneath my feeders, in addition to white millet and sunflower seeds, eastern towhees also dine on a variety of seeds including corn, canary and thistle seed.
Since eastern towhees are ground feeders, it is important that we keep the hulls and seeds that accumulate beneath our feeders from becoming contaminated with fungi and bacteria. Each year untold numbers of birds that frequent bird feeding areas die from eating contaminated seeds. If you regularly remove large accumulations of seeds and hulls and toss them into the garbage, you will be helping keep your yard disease free and ensuring towhees and other members of the cleanup crew will be eating healthy foods.