Thursday, December 27, 2007

What's in a towhee?

Coming into work today, I heard the distinctive, loud "chink" call of a California Towhee (pictured) from a yard behind the Habitat Authority office (downtown Whittier, near Washington and Mar Vista).

Towhees (all 3 species in California) are rarely found in urban habitats, though both the California and Spotted towhees are resident in the hilly neighborhoods around the Puente Hills. In the Hollywood area where I used to live, I almost never saw them south of Sunset Blvd., though small numbers are resident in an isolated population in the Baldwin Hills (north of LAX). In the San Gabriel Valley, where I grew up, I never saw one in my backyard, though they were resident at the overgrown grounds of an old mansion a few blocks away, and along the landscaped flood control of Eaton Wash.

All of our animal species exhibit some degree of tolerance to urbanization, from birds like Band-tailed Pigeons and crows that seem to favor built/planted areas, to those like the California Quail and the gnatcatchers which simply can't make it away from native vegetation. I think of the California Towhee as sort of intermediate in terms of sensitivity, and one that may respond very quickly to native plantings in backyards.

Still, I was surprised that this individual made it so far south into the "flats" of Whittier. I wonder if they make it south of Whittier Blvd., and if so, where?