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Tonight I’m featuring a bird that I see so often that I don’t think much about it. The bird is an Abert’s Towhee. This little brown sparrow-like bird is a common sight in the Tucson area in underbrush near streams. I see it frequently on my walks at Sabino Canyon. At Sweetwater Wetlands it is perhaps the bird that I see most often. These birds are a bit difficult to photograph because of their habit of staying under brush or foraging in deep shade. I was lucky the other day to find this individual perching on a rock out in the open.
I may be jaded from seeing these birds so often but others certainly aren’t. On several occasions over the years I’ve met birding enthusiasts from places as far away as Europe who ask me where I can find an Abert’s Towhee. When I first began encountering these questions I was a bit puzzled. Why would people actively seek out something that I think of as being so common?
The answer is that Abert’s Towhees are common only within a very circumscribed area. They inhabit only southern and western Arizona, the southern tip of Nevada, and part of southeastern California. Moreover, they are highly selective about their habitat within that range. These birds need streams and creeks — not an abundant commodity in our region — and then, they inhabit only the brushy areas immediately adjacent to those bodies of water. One could literally drive for hundreds of miles in our desert and never encounter one of these birds.
So, what I find to be common and even rather mundane is a rare treat for many others. There’s a cautionary tale in all of this. A bird as selective about habitat as is the Abert’s Towhee is extremely vulnerable to changing climate and to human exploitation of riparian habitats. It wouldn’t take much to drive this little bird to extinction given the scarcity of water in our area and the tendency of people to overuse what little that we have.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f8 @ 1/1600.