The Abert's Towhee (Melozone aberti) is a bird of the family Emberizidae, native to a small range in southwestern North America, generally the lower Colorado River and Gila River watersheds, nearly endemic to Arizona, but also present in small parts of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Sonora in Mexico.
This bird is common in brushy riparian habitats in the Lower Sonoran desert zone but may require some effort to see as it prefers to stay well-hidden under bushes. Though threatened by cowbird nest parasitism and habitat loss, it has successfully colonized suburban environments in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area and may be fairly easily seen on the campus of Arizona State University. Despite its limited range, it is classified as a species of Least Concern in the IUCN Redlist, and there has been some range expansion along the Santa Cruz River as well as in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona.
Abert's Towhees are recognized by their relatively long tails, dark faces, and overall brown plumage. They are related to sparrows and juncos but are more similar to thrashers in appearance. They can be confused with California Towhees, but their dark faces are distinct, and the range of these species only slightly overlaps. The Abert's Towhee is the longest species in the diverse Emberizidae at 21 to 25 cm (8.3 to 9.8 in) long, but its length is boasted by a relatively long tail, at 10 to 12 cm (3.9 to 4.7 in) in length. Males weigh from 40–54.1 g (1.41–1.91 oz), with an average of 47.1 g (1.66 oz), while females weigh from 39.5–51 g (1.39–1.80 oz), with an average of 44.8 g (1.58 oz). In terms of weight, it is outbulked by several other towhee species. Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 8.2 to 9.7 cm (3.2 to 3.8 in), the bill is 1.5 to 1.6 cm (0.59 to 0.63 in) and the tarsus is 2.6 to 2.9 cm (1.0 to 1.1 in).
These birds are often seen foraging among dense brush for seeds. Like other towhees, they scratch at the ground in a manner similar to quail, and will sometimes dig up and eat grubs. They can be attracted to feeders by providing cracked corn on the ground.
The name of this bird commemorates the American ornithologist James William Abert (1820–1897).
- The Abert's Towhee has one of the smallest total distributions of any U.S. birds species, making it much sought after by birders who travel to the Southwest desert to observe it.
- They are an inconspicuous bird because they forage in thick undergrowth and rarely fly any great distance.
- A group of towhees are collectively known as a "tangle" or a "teapot" of towhees.
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- Abert's Towhee videos, photos, and sounds at the Internet Bird Collection