When we are watching the birds living in our backyards, are we REALLY looking at them? For example, the eastern towhee is a common backyard resident throughout the state of Georgia. In spite of the fact that we are likely to see the bird scores of times over the course of a year, more than likely most of us do not know the color of an eastern towhee’s eyes. This is because we rarely take the time to look at a common bird long enough to note any of its subtle features.
The truth of the matter is throughout most of Georgia eastern towhees have red eyes. In comparison, those towhees that reside in extreme south Georgia have white eyes (sometimes referred to as yellow eyes). In fact, white-eyed eastern towhees also abound in Florida and south Alabama. Towhees displaying both red and white eyes inhabit the vast area between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina.
EASTERN TOWHEE with red eyes
Ornithologists believe that the first white-eyed towhees originated in Florida during the Pleistocene era. At that time, Florida was a large island. When the seas began to retreat Florida was no longer an island. This allowed populations of towhees with white eyes to move northward.
If you live in extreme south Georgia, or in that portion of Georgia located between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina, take a closer look at the towhees feeding on the ground beneath your feeders. Who knows, towhees with white eyes may have been dining on your food offerings for quite some time and you did not even know it. If you live elsewhere in the state, there is always a chance to you might see a towhee with white eyes too.
As for me, I live in an area where I have a reasonable chance for seeing a towhee with white eyes. Although I have been looking such a bird for decades, I have only seen towhees with red eyes. Perhaps 2022 with be the year I will spot both. I hope so.