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The Spotted Towhee and the Frustration of Photographing Ground Feeding Birds


I admit I spend a lot of time feeding the birds in my yard year round. It provides for some great photography opportunities and some great viewing opportunities as well. One species in particular I haven’t had any photographs of is the spotted towhee. It is a regular visitor to the feeder but one I have never gotten any photos of until now.

spotted towhee
A spotted towhee foraging for food underneath the feeder.

A common bird in these parts, the spotted towhee is one of my frustration birds to photograph because of its feeding habits. It is primarily a ground feeding bird, picking up what falls off the feeder as well as foraging for what mother nature has left behind. This offers two unique challenges to the bird photographer if they want to capture the spotted towhee in a natural type of setting. I typically don’t like to photograph birds on feeders very often unless, of course, it is a rare sighting.

spotted towhee
The spotted towhee is a regular visitor to the feeder.

The first challenge is the angle. Photographing down on a bird generally doesn’t give the look I want when photographing birds. I strive to find them on a perch if at all possible but the spotted towhee is one which I find rarely sitting on a perch, at least when they are active and not hiding high up in the large trees in my yard. I tend to want to photograph birds as level as possible with regards to the angle but that is easier said than done for most birds, especially ground dwelling birds such as the spotted towhee.

spotted towhee
Spotted towhee

The second and more difficult challenge in photographing the spotted towhee and other ground feeding birds is they often stay hidden in the brush and bushes where it is hard to get a good clean shot of the bird. I can only assume but I tend to think spotted towhees feel safer foraging underneath a canopy of bushes and brush as opposed to out in the open.

spotted towhee
The spotted towhee can regularly be seen cleaning up seed underneath the feeder.

One thing I did learn about the spotted towhee while I was photographing this particular bird is they scratch the ground like a chicken in search for their food, moving leaves and debris out of the way while scouring the ground for seeds. This behavior is now on my bucket list to try and capture in a future photo session with the spotted towhee. The spotted towhee does offer one more frustrating aspect to bird photography not common with many other birds, ground feeding or not. They have a uniquely long tail which is hard to keep in the frame. It is also hard, as it was today with low light, to keep the tail in focus due to needing such a large aperture to let in as much light as possible. I didn’t get to use the camera settings I typically would have for this situation because of the clouds and low light. Even though the tail of the spotted towhee in these photographs aren’t perfectly sharp it does break my long streak of not getting any photographs of these unique and brightly colored birds.

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