Scratch a Storm | Local News

In my last column, I asked you to look up into the sky to observe the nocturnal hawks. Now I want you to look down and listen to a noise under your shrubs. Look closely and you might see a spotted tohi. It is a strikingly beautiful ground feeder with a black hood (dark brown in females) on the head, chest and back, white spots on the back, red flanks, a long black tail with white spots at the corners, bright red eyes and pink legs. He resides year round in New Mexico. Also look for its parents, the canyon tohi and the green tail tohi. More information on them in the next columns.

The tohi was named for one of its calls, often heard from a low, dense thicket. Spotted tohi also utters a loud, cat-like meow and a song consisting of a few quick, scrambled notes followed by a short, fine trill.

The spotted tohi is a bit larger than its sparrow cousins, but smaller than a robin. Spotted tohi spend a lot of time chasing seeds and insects by scraping leaves and litter on the ground. They leap into the air and step back with both feet, scratching a storm, exposing their favorite foods. Ways to attract tohi are to keep the shrub branches low and allow the leaves to accumulate under the shrubs. Serve quality seeds spread out on the ground. My tohi love white millet. Remember to provide a ground level bird bath.

At the start of the breeding season, male spotted tohi spend their mornings singing their hearts out, trying to attract a mate. They can spend 80 percent of their morning singing. Once they attract a partner, their attention turns to other things and their song drops to 5%. Spotted tohi nest mainly on the ground in dense thickets. Predation of nests by domestic cats, snakes, squirrels and scrub jays is an important factor in the breeding success of this bird. The female builds the nest over a period of about five days. The nest is large and solidly constructed of leaves, strips of bark, twigs and grass.

Each season, one to two clutches of three to five eggs are laid. Eggshells are creamy white to pale gray with reddish brown spots. The female incubates the eggs alone for about 14 days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest approximately 11 days after hatching.

Enjoy these beautiful birds this fall and winter.

Ken Bunkowski and his son, Matt, are co-owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and look forward to sharing the joy birds bring to our lives.

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