Animals In Appalachia Appalachia

The Joree Bird

Today’s guest post was written by B. Ruth

Joree bird in appalachia

I heard my Dad say “I hear a ‘joree’ bird”! As a youngster I could never find the ‘joree bird’ or see where the sound was coming from. I didn’t know what it looked like or what its real name was until many years later when I got involved in bird watching.

Daddy always called woodpeckers…”pecker woods” and Cuckoos “raincrows”. I found out later that the ‘joree bird’ was a Eastern Towee. It always seemed Daddy had his own Appalachian names for common birds and animals…like polecat for skunk, and so forth.

Many Appalachians of the time and earlier called the Eastern Towhee…a joree bird. Here is the definition in the book of “Smoky Mountain Voices: A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech” by Harold G. Farwell, Jr. & J Karl Nichollas, Editors….book based on Horace Kephart and others….

Joree Bird: [n. Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).] I could hear the t-wee, t-wee of “joree birds” (towhees) which winter in the valleys (B 90). [Possibly to suggest etymology, K (Kephart) added a note after listing “Joree-bird” (J 1:73) among S. App. fauna: “Joree-bird /Bartram (Travels, p. 357) , mentions a Cherokee country,’ and the ‘Jore’ River or Creek, near Charleston [Bryson City–K] ‘which is a considerable branch [Tuskaseegee?–] of the Tanase.” (J 26:54) [DA, DAE suggest S. distribution.]

We have here on our place many, many Eastern Towhees. I love hearing them. The “joree” sound is not their main song…but a communication sound as well as the “ka-jink” sound. It also can be a warning sound. These beautiful birds scratch and hop around in the wooded leaf litter under the trees hunting for insects, seeds, etc. We have many that feed at our seed feeders all winter but more in the Spring and Summer. Their main call/song is reminisce of “Drink-your-teaaa”…sometimes singing “drink’ drink before finishing your, tea! LOL

I have read references to joree birds in other Appalachian books. If you’d like to hear the joree bird and its various calls-click here to visit the All About Birds Website’s page on Eastern Towhee. (you may have to stop Tipper’s music before you click to hear the bird)


I hope you enjoyed B. Ruth’s guest post as much as I did! And I hope you’ll leave a comment and tell us what you know about the Joree Bird.


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  • Reply
    Mark Head, MD
    August 8, 2021 at 10:29 am

    Good to find out so much on the “joree”, which I looked up upon reading a fine excerpt from Marjorie Rawlings’ “Cross Creek”. Today is MR’s birthday, as I found out in Garrison Keillor’s daily contribution to “The Writer’s Almanac”. Others have quoted “The Yearling” in these postings.

    And “raincrow” is another colorful nick-name, no ? The cuckoo bird has made a comeback over here in France; i hear his sometimes incessant call when camping.

  • Reply
    Ludona Smith
    January 8, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    I am in only the 4th chapter of The Yearling and have looked up a dozen or more tree and animal names and just hit on joree. Thanks for the description and origin of the term and Towhee which I’d love to know how to pronounce. I’m sure I’ll be back!

  • Reply
    September 10, 2020 at 7:30 am

    I just came across “Joree bird” as I was re-reading “The Education of Little Tree” by Forrest Carter for what might be the 10th time. Not sure what made me curious enough to google it this time when I just let it go all the rest. But I suspect it’s because birds have become increasingly dead to me as I get older and it’s been more than a dozen years since I read it the last time. In the passage, Little Tree is telling of the birds that he’s familiar with around his grandparents’ cabin in Western North Carolina and he says “but if the joree comes close to the cabin, he is a certain sign that you will not get sick atall for the entire summer.” We have watched towhees “fight” themselves- their own reflections- back and forth across the windshields of our cars over the years and they always make me smile. Now that I know them by their Appalachian name, I will listen for that call.

  • Reply
    June 4, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Just read a story by So. Georgia writer Ferrol Sams. He spoke of a horse in the ferns and I had to look it up. This is a cool thread!

    • Reply
      June 4, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      Autocorrect changed joree to horse… solly cholly!!

      • Reply
        June 4, 2019 at 8:32 pm

        Joe-Thanks for the comment-glad you enjoyed the thread. Auto correct gets me all the time 🙂

  • Reply
    Zelma Harris
    April 28, 2019 at 10:37 am

    We love these birds, which we call rufous-sided towhees in southwest Virginia. They stay year round on our mountain, and I love seeing them scratch around under the shrubs. They stayed around our feeders all winter long, and shared the ground with the doves and titmice and chickadees.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    I grew up hearing my grandparents speak of taking a “joree” bath. I never thought much about it, until my mom used the term tonight and my husband asked, “What in the world is a joree bath?” I had always assumed it was a common term for a quick wipe-off bath that everyone knew….apparently, not so! It seems it is a phrase unique to my family. My mom said her father had frequently used it, and it was referring to a bird called a “joree” and how it splashed around in the water to take a quick bath. We then laughed at the idea of a bird called a joree! None of us had ever seen or heard of one. I was delighted to search for the term and find your story explaining about the “joree bird!” My grandfather’s family migrated to South Georgia from North Carolinain the 1800s, so I assume they brought this term with them.

    • Reply
      Ms Tracey
      February 25, 2021 at 5:11 pm

      My family used the term joree bath too. It meant quick wash up and not a leisurely bath. Grandma Brown said sometimes they’d collect rain water or go to the creek if it wasn’t too muddy and scrub up real quick like. That was a joree bath. My folks hail from Yemassee, SC to Jax, FL and points in between. Plus a branch out in KY.

  • Reply
    Shawna Ellis
    October 26, 2018 at 12:50 am

    I know this is an old post, but I found this page while looking up by what a “joree” bird was from the novel The Yearling (set in late 1800s Florida). I’m from Tennessee, parents are from Arkansas but I’ve never heard that term used. Towhees are among my favorite birds. When I met my future husband as a teen and discovered that he was also a birder, we quizzed each other to learn the extent of each other’s knowledge. He asked me what a Loggerhead Shrike was and I described it, then I asked him what a Rufous-sided Towhee was (older and better name for Eastern Towhee). He not only answered but acted out how a Towhee feeds the hop-kick-scratch action. It was adorable and I was in love! Two species of Towhee also accounted for our 400th (Green-tailed) and 401st (Abert’s) species on our life lists while birding in southeast Arizona. Love Towhees! Cool to learn of their colloquial name.

  • Reply
    Thomas G Connell, M.Photog.Cr. GFA
    September 18, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I have always lived in South Georgia. My father bought a farm when I was 6 and we moved out of town and life changed much for me. On our farm was a black family the ‘James’ family. There were 3 boys, the youngest about a year older than me. We immediately became best of friends and roamed the farm and neighboring pine woods. This is where I learned about the ‘Joree’ and many other local names for birds. ‘Peckerwood’ was any woodpecker and there were many more that at my present age of almost 80 escape me.
    Now here at home in the W. side of Valdosta, we have 2 feeder stations with trees and shrubs near. At the main station there is a fountain that runs continuously so there is always water to bathe in and drink. There I built from cast iron pipe a two tiered vertical station and it holds as many as 9 feeders. We change the types of feed from winter and summer. Now there is a feeder with 3 types of suet and the Red Bellied, Red Headed and the Downy woodpeckers all are fattening up and putting oiled sunflower seeds in the cracks of a Camphor tree (it started out as a bush). Jays swoop in for the seeds many times a day. Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmouse, Chickadees (they are most always together) and Brown Headed Nuthatch (formally called Nuthac) come in for whatever we have. In the early part of the year we put out feeders and socks for the American Goldfinches that swarm in and sometimes we see them at the other feeder feeding on the Sunflower seeds. We have doves and ground feed on the droppings along with squirrels. In the fall Robins flock to the fountain to wash and drink after their long trip.
    We have 3 humming bird feeders at the kitchen, great room and my bathroom where I have a camera mount system so I can shoot where most of the birds come and it’s great light from early afternoon to evening. Our humming birds feed and fight from all three positions and are there if we have the light on until after dark.
    I am a retired commercial photographer and was a studio owner for over 45 years. We also had a video production studio in the latter years so I an fairly well versed in shooing video also. Since retirement we sold all the ‘Pro’ camera and equipment, but I use a Canon SX-60HS and that is a fine camera for advanced photographers. I very seldom shoot anything handheld as I never did during our pro time. A sharp and well focused image is a must in professional work and blurry or out of focus was a no no. I shoot with a remote shutter sometimes and the short Ball Head window mount allows me to quickly reset the camera and with it solidly mounted it allows me to shoot as slower settings. Some of my bird images have been published so I’m satisfied in these later years.
    I so enjoyed this article as I always wondered if there were two species of almost identical birds, but in following links and looking and then hearing the audio sounds, they confirmed that the Towhee was the correct name. But I always have referred to them as my Grandfather and Father did as a Joree. I hope no one will think less of me for that.

  • Reply
    thomas julius kellum
    January 9, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    My grandmother (born 1894, St. George, Dorchester county, SC) used to say: “crazy as a Joree”.

  • Reply
    May 1, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Thank you for this interesting post, B. Ruth! I don’t see towhees at home, but working at an Audubon Sanctuary years ago, they were everywhere! Towhees are one of the few birds I can readily identify – big and clearly-marked. I have to use small binoculars to get a good enough look at the wrens and such, even when they are on the feeder right outside the screen porch. Love those binocs!

  • Reply
    May 1, 2014 at 1:22 am

    Some of that reminds me of how Sister Pattie use to speak as a small child. I remember she got many two-part words backwards, but the two I remember most was her saying “hikehitcher” for “hitchhiker” and “cleaverloaf” for “clover leaf”. I don’t know why she spoke that way, but we always got a kick out of it. LOL
    I wonder if we have any of those birds around here. We were out in the yard tonight after the storms passed (again), and we could see all kinds of birds flying about and hear them singing in the trees – probably as happy for the sunshine after all those days of wind and rain, rain, rain as we humans were.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    April 30, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    my Dad always said “peckerwood”! and it was a polecat, not a skunk, and you are right they both stink!!!!!!!

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    April 30, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Enjoyed reading about the Joree bird, B. Ruth. I wasn’t faniliar with it. I remember hearing Pecker Wood used. I remember hearing my daddy saying he thought there was a Pole Cat in the basement when I was little. I imagined some big scary cat was down there.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 30, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    I always thought the mourning dove was what we called the rain crow and that the cuckoo was native only to Europe and parts of Asia. Correct me if I am wrong. I see lots of Cuckoos but none of them have wings.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    April 30, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    My grandpa used to swear by the call of the raincrow as an accurate predictor of coming rain. I must say that I pretty much agree with him! For years and years, I thought that it was really called a raincrow and one day I commented to some friends that it was going to rain because I could hear a raincrow. I got some weird looks and someone finally said, “Oh, you mean the cuckoo?”

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    And B. Ruth,
    I don’t know for sure if I’m familiar
    with hearing the joree bird. Blue Jays are my favorite. There is lots of tweeting around here, but I don’t pay much attention to what it is.
    Sometimes I call the Skunk, a Polecat.
    They may not be the same thing, but
    they still stink.
    Enjoyed the link to the birds…Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 30, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I am just now reading your blog this morning. My son played a trick on me. I was outside, watching and listening to the birds when he called and said, “He saw and heard a strange bird!”…It was saying (singing) “happppyyy annniversssaryyy”…He said, “Mom it hopped and made a loud noise in the grass, etc. under the feeder! Then he repeated, the sound again and said it sounded like joreeeee but then said, “Happyyy Annniverssarry” again! It took me a minute to catch on…(today is our anniversary.) Then he told me about the Blind Pig posting and my little story about the Joree bird…I of course, ran in and logged on to reread it. Thanks Tipper for posting. I love the next morning after and evening of rain, the many tree frogs and peepers…The birds start in their morning chorus…I never heard the “rain crows” call yesterday before all the rain! I guess for here it is a little bit early…
    Thanks Tipper,
    I enjoyed that many folks knew the bird by the “joree” name! Glad to help the ones who weren’t as familiar with the bird. It is a beautiful bird and can be quite a show-off!

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    April 30, 2014 at 10:10 am

    I grew up listening to the Joree call while hunting with my father in Georgia. The Joree liked to sratch around in leaves under bushes or briars. A few years back I heard the call in the Virginia mountains, spotted the bird and found it in a field guide. I love the call and it reminds me of those crisp fall days in the woods with my father.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Ah, yes! Those birds have come to visit at my feeders also. I have had three sets of rose-breasted groosebeaks this year. I have seen new ones at the feeds like a Downy woodpecker which I usually see in trees, towees and indigo buntings. Also, the big crows and wonderful yellow of the goldfinches. An occasional bluejay, and so many others. Thanks for the towee story.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    April 30, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Thanks, B. ruth
    Daddy, who no doubt learned it from Grandpa – and in fact I think he’d usually credit Grandpa for the name, just said joree (didn’t add “bird” on to the end).
    To my ears, the “jo-ree” call is the prettiest sound they make – bright and cheerful. The end of the drink your tea-a-a-a-a-a call is like fingernails on a blackboard.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Thanks so much B Ruth. I loved your post. I had a little trouble getting on The Blind Pig this morn, but well worth the effort. I had never heard of that bird.
    I had not heard the word polecat for many years. It immediately brought to mind Boomer which I googled. Imagine my surprise when it brought me right back to Tipper’s site. Keep up the good work! You are keeping me alert and making me think. My Dad used to use all those Appalachian terms.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    April 30, 2014 at 8:34 am

    B. Ruth, this was a very good article. Your Father sounds like mine. The old timer had a name for everything. I am not informed correctly on proper name of birds etc, Thank you for this info.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Yep Ive heard it and Ive tried to get The Pressley Girls to sing it!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 30, 2014 at 8:06 am

    To my way of thinking and hearing the sound of the joree (or towhee) sounds more like the Appalachian choice of the bird’s name. I’ve listened to them times without number while trying to determine that distinction. I’ll stick with joree, just like my forebears. I don’t think Grandpa would have known what you meant when you said towhee
    What I didn’t realize until B. Ruth’s interesting blog was that the bird makes other sounds. I’ve heard them frequently in recent weeks while in the turkey woods, but I’ll have to pay more heed in an effort to hear other portion’s of the joree’s vocabulary.
    Incidentally, I have no doubt B. Ruth is exactly right on this. After all, there are more than thirty sounds in the wild turkey’s vocabulary.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    C N Byrd
    April 30, 2014 at 7:59 am

    I have seen and heard the Joree many many times but it wasn’t until earlier this spring that I got to put the two together. I was looking out the kitchen window onto the back deck when there alighted a black, orange and white bird. As I stood there transfixed, it began to sing “Drink your teeeeeee, Drink your teeeeee!” Eventually she decided she had better things to do and flew away. As she spread and closed her wings in flight the feathers opened into a white fan then closed again with every stroke.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 30, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Did you ever hear, ♫ Oh the raincrow she’s a pretty bird. She warbles as she flies? ♫

  • Reply
    Dan O'Connor
    April 30, 2014 at 7:30 am

    I have been wondering what kind of bird that is at my feeders. The site you shared says they tend to hide out. Not mine, they are all over my garden and feeders! Thanks for solving my mystery!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 30, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Thank you, B Ruth, for the article. We certainly have a fine collection of bird life here in Appalachia. In the spring, like now, the woods come alive with their songs. Sometimes I sit and listen, wondering exactly what their conversation is about!

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