Spotted Towhee In A Weird Takeoff Posture

Or perhaps it was a threat posture. Or a combination of both. Either way these images won’t earn any awards for aesthetics but this is a pose I’ve never seen before from any bird so I was fascinated by what might have initiated it.

Both photos were taken about six weeks ago on Antelope Island.


1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

By the time I got my lens on this male Spotted Towhee he was already in the process of taking off. Or something. I’m not really sure what he was doing, at least not all of it. By the next shot in the burst he was already gone so I know he was in the process of taking off when this one was taken but it sure looks to me like there was something else going on too because this is a really weird pose for most any purpose I’m aware of.

My best guess is that it’s a combination of takeoff and threat postures. Perhaps there’s another bird in the bush and he reacted to it as he took off toward it. And he didn’t go far.



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is where he landed, only about a foot or two away from his original position and based on his erected head feathers, raised tail and overall alert posture I think he still looks aggressive and ready for a possible confrontation with something. If he was reacting to another bird I never did notice it so I can only speculate about the actual reason for that original pose which I think is beautiful but just a little bizarre.

I’d love to have captured that pose up close and in a less busy setting with no obstructions in front of the bird. I think Spotted Towhees are gorgeous birds and I loved that pose and plumage display.






26 comments to Spotted Towhee In A Weird Takeoff Posture

  • Alice Beckcom

    Ron, you are right. The Spotted Towhee is a beautiful. It is great that you were able to capture the erected head feathers and the spread out tail. The eyes really stand out on that black head and interestingly ‘match’ some of the wing feathers.

    It is fun to hear you speculate what was going on. Too bad you weren’t able to capture ‘what was going on”!!! Maybe next time!!!

    Thank you, Ron

  • What a fascinating capture. Like Patty I am intrigued to notice that some of his tail feathers look to be entirely black.
    Love the raised crest on landing, and have noticed that our sulphur-crested cockatoos always do that too.

  • David Sorokwasz, DVM

    We had a Spotted Towee that would attack his reflection in one of our windows one spring, a few years ago. He would assume that exact attitude and body position from the sill every time just, before taking a run at himself and bonking himself on the glass! This would go on, noisily, for minutes at a time until he tired I suppose.

  • I’ve caught similar erection of the head feathers on video, not as pretty or clear though, California, in early July. It was a pair of Spotted Towhees making small alarm calls, probably due my presence on the driveway with a tripod and video camera. The head feathers went up only very briefly, then a pause, then a jump into flight. The calls the pair were exchanging did indeed seem to be alarm calls, not because of another bird, but the clumsy human who was getting too close (me) for comfort. Later in the summer I had the pleasure of seeing a family with three juveniles frequenting our bird bath. They like a good bath. Love these birds and I enjoyed your posted photos. The backgrounds seem perfectly typical for these birds. On my video, the crest erection passes so quickly prior to the jump into flight that at 30fps you see it, but if you blink you will miss it. Still photography is so special in this way, freezing a moment which to us might otherwise be barely discernable.

  • Susan aka Blue

    Another thought; He had an itchy backside.

  • I really like the second image, the way it shows his spiky head-dressing feathers. The dinosaur decentants really are special. Thanks for sharing.

  • Susan aka Blue

    Stunning and sweet little creatures! As to beauty, the Spotted Towhee is included in my personal top 10. Thanks, Ron.

  • Charlotte W. Norton

    They’re wonderful Ron!


  • Patty Chadwick

    I’m interested in the variety shown by his tsil feathers…some of which end with a white tip and others that don’t…

  • Shirley

    Love those shots, Ron. Really hard to know what is up with that stance for sure but such a beautiful bird. We have been watching the Hooded Mergansers & the males are displaying that kind of stance in the water. The male Hoodies are trying to win over the females right now.

  • Patty Chadwick

    He sure looks aggressive (and beautiful!) to me…they are so pretty with that combination of black, white and sienna that always appeals to me….interesting behaviour anyway….

  • Susan Stone

    These are both beautiful and interesting shots. It does look as if there is something threatening going on. Wish I could see one of these guys up close; I’ve seen them at a distance.

    • Susan, I almost never seen them close up, including this time. So it’s so ironic that the only time I did see one up close the bird was too large to fit in the frame…

  • Judy Gusick

    Looked like he was ready to take a BIG jump………. Certainly has his feathers ruffled in the 2nd photo. I notice a swirl of feathers on the base of the left wing – perhaps he’d already had an encounter with “something”? They are fun birds to watch – glad you captured him. 🙂

  • Barbara

    Cute!! Great shots.