About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm trying to find the name of a wild brown bird in Michigan with orange under bellies.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to know a bird by people’s descriptions. I’m a little better with pictures. However, three birds come to my mind instantly when you said "brown bird with orange bellies".
  1. Female Baltimore Oriole
  2. American Robin
  3. Female Eastern Towhee

Now because you said bellies, I’m thinking it had orange on both sides of the belly and I’m going to go with Female Eastern Towhee. If that’s not right send me a little more information. Was it in the city or country, was it larger than a sparrow, are there any other markings that stand out, was it near a feeder…?

Eastern Towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

Description: About the size of a Robin, the Male and female towhees have dark plumage on their heads and backs and rusty-orange flanks on a white belly. The males, head, neck, throat and back are black while the females are dark brown. The scientific name Piplo is derived from the Latin pipo, meaning “to chirp”. Erythrophthalmus is derived from Greek words that mean “red eye.” Eastern Towhees in Michigan have red eyes, but white-eyed birds are common in the southern states.


General: Eastern Towhees live in Michigan from late March to mid-November. They are often heard before they are seen. The name "towhee," a simulation of the bird's call, was coined in 1731 by the naturalist and bird artist Mark Catesby. During the spring nesting season the males sing 'drink your tea' loudly from exposed perches and their call when disturbed is a loud 'towhee'. A group of towhees are collectively known as a "tangle" and a "teapot" of towhees.

Behavior: Towhees are usually shy sulkers and rush for cover at the slightest disturbance. They are ground feeders and use a hop-and-scratch foraging method. While jumping forward with its head and tail up, it kicks its strong legs backwards to uncover its food. They use this same technique on the forest floor and underneath feeders even when the seeds are clearly visible. If your feeders are near dense underbrush you may attract towhees with peanuts, sunflower seeds, millet or cracked corn.

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