Birds - The Chewink
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Pipilo erythrophthalmus) Finch family
Called also: GROUND ROBIN ; TOWHEE ; TOWHEE. BUNTING ; TOWHEE GROUND FINCH ; GRASEL
Length—8 to 8.5 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male—Upper parts black, sometimes margined with rufous. Breast white; chestnut color on sides and rump. Wings marked with white. Three outer feathers of tail striped with white, conspicuous in flight. Bill black and stout. Red eyes; feet brown.
Female—Brownish where the male is black. Abdomen shading from chestnut to white in the centre.
Range—From Labrador, on the north, to the Southern States ; west to the Rocky Mountains.
Migrations—April. September and October. Summer resident. Very rarely a winter resident at the north.
The unobtrusive little chewink is not infrequently mistaken for a robin, because of the reddish chestnut on its under parts. Careful observation, however, shows important distinctions. It is rather smaller and darker in color; its carriage and form are not those of the robin, but of the finch. The female is smaller still, and has an olive tint in her brown back. Her eggs are in-conspicuous in color, dirty white speckled with brown, and laid in a sunken nest on the ground. Dead leaves and twigs abound, and form, as the anxious mother fondly hopes, a safe hiding place for her brood. So careful concealment, however, brings peril to the fledglings, for the most cautious bird-lover may, and often does, inadvertently set his foot on the hidden nest.
The chewink derives its name from the fancied resemblance of its note to these syllables, while those naming it "towhee" hear the sound to-whick, to-whick, to-whee. Its song is rich, full, and pleasing, and given only when the bird has risen to the branches above its low foraging ground.
It frequents the border of swampy places and bushy fields.
It is generally seen in the underbrush, picking about among the dead leaves for its steady diet of earthworms and larvae of insects, occasionally regaling itself with a few dropping berries and fruit.
When startled, the bird rises not more than ten or twelve feet from the earth, and utters its characteristic calls. On ac-count of this habit of flying low and grubbing among the leaves, it is sometimes called the ground robin. In the South our modest and useful little food-gatherer is often called grasel, especially in Louisiana, where it is white-eyed, and is much esteemed, alas! by epicures.