Green-tailed Towhee

We got a little surprise yesterday when the JerseyBirds list announced that a Green-tailed Towhee (Papilo chlorurus) had been sighted in Collingswood – right down the road from me! Unfortunately, the poster didn’t know if the owners of the house were willing to let people know where they lived so I had to wait for word before I went over to see this rarity – at least for the east coast.

Green-tailed Towhee Map Green-tailed Towhee’s are birds that are normally found west of the Rocky Mountains, primarily in the desert areas with low brush (see map, left – courtesy of So, seeing this bird in New Jersey is something of a special event. This was the 12th or 13th record of one in NJ, and the first since 1985. From the moment the word went out, people were starting to make their way to little Haddon Township to see if they could get a look. When the word came that they were inviting guests, I made my way over to their home to see the little guy.

Unfortunately, although I got to meet a few other members of the JerseyBirds listserv, the towhee decided to be a no-show. I was supposedly only going over for 5 minutes, but I was there for nearly an hour waiting with nothing to show for it. Eventually, I had to head home (for a good reason – our new HDTV was coming), without my first lifelist bird of the year.

Second Chances

This morning, Shari and I had planned on going down to Forsythe and Barnegat, and I figured that would negate any chance at seeing this bird today – or any other day if it decided to leave the area (as rarities like this are apt to do). However, Shari wasn’t feeling well so we stuck around locally – which ended up being a positive thing as I got to make attempt #2.

This time, I was more successful. I got there about 5 minutes after the last sighting, and I was worried that I was dodging luck again (I missed the bird the day before by 5 minutes or so). But no sooner than the thought crossed my mind than the bird appeared, and gave all dozen or so of us a great look at his beautiful plumage.

Green-tailed Towhee (extralimital)

He – and I – stuck around for the next 45 minutes or so as I shot over 100 pictures of him from various angles, heights and with different settings hoping to get a good shot. He was very cooperative, and I was able to add this rarity to the lifelist – my first one only 3 days in (not too shabby). Others were also able to get a great look, partially due to the hospitality of the homeowners, Peggy and John McDevit. Many thanks to them for all of their friendliness and hospitality.

Coupled with my first day of back yard shooting in quite a while the day before, this weekend has been pretty good for local birding for me. And hopefully an auspicious omen.

Ain't Where He's Supposed to Be

4 Responses to “Green-tailed Towhee

  • blogger8674
    15 years ago

    Hi Marty,
    Your photos are killer….amazing stuff as i sifted through archives on flickr!
    You have an older post (2006) on the importance of cleaning feeders, with a photo of a sparrow that had conjunctivitis. This is great info with proof!
    I don’t know how to email you directly, but wanted to ask if i could use this,
    (with a back link of course) to your desired spot?
    Please email me either way if you have a second.
    Thank you,

  • that is a really cool looking bird. it reminds me a lot of the road runners i would see in texas

  • Beth Thanks! I replied to you offline, too.
    Van these guys are quite a bit smaller (a little larger than a big house sparrow), but I can see the shape in it that would make you think that.

  • Great find — wonder how that guy got all the way to NJ!

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