One of Three

A canyon towhee looks directly at me as it perches atop a saguaro along Brown's Ranch Road in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

We see a lot of overlap between the birds of our backyard and the birds of the desert but not with towhees. I’ve seen three species of towhees in Arizona, Abert’s towhees all summer in our yard and just recently a spotted towhee, but the canyon towhee shown here I only see on the trails.

I Will Sing

A canyon towhee sings atop a saguaro before the sun crests above the distant hills on the Upper Ranch Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

The sun had not yet crested the distant hills as this canyon towhee serenaded me atop a saguaro, a lovely reward for getting out of bed so early on the weekend. It was the only picture I took that day but it was a lovely day on the trails nevertheless. This morning I deliberately slept in as I knew I would be too tired to feel safe driving if I got up at 4 a.m. so I chose a good night’s sleep instead. I see many of the same birds in our backyard as on the trails (we even had a couple of Harris’s hawks perching in the palm trees recently) but with the towhees it’s a bit different, a pair of Abert’s towhees are regular visitors to our feeders but I’ve never seen them in the desert, while canyon towhees have never graced our yard but I’ve seen them many places around the preserve.

The One-eyed Towhee

A canyon towhee is missing one of its eyes at Balanced Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

In May I arrived at Balanced Rock on my first visit to this lovely rock formation in the Granite Mountain section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. After taking some pictures of Balanced Rock itself, I sat down on a large granite slab for some water and cereal bars before heading back. I put my camera away but brought it back out when a pair of canyon towhees flew in. I could tell something was wrong with one of the eyes of one of the pair but couldn’t tell what as it flitted about until I looked at the pictures: one of its eyes was missing. To me it looks like a congenital defect, as though the eye and the surrounding feathers never formed.

I felt a great deal of sympathy for the little bird as life in the desert is hard enough. But even more I felt admiration as it flew about the rocks and perched in trees with all the grace and alacrity typical of birds despite the limited depth perception. Obviously it had survived into adulthood and apparently found a mate (canyon towhees are typically monogamous and often mate for life). I couldn’t say if its mate helps it find food, or if it supplements its diet with crumbs left behind by hikers like me who stop to eat, or if it feeds just fine on its own, but it seemed healthy.

May you have a long happy life, little one.

A side view of a canyon towhee at Balanced Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve