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threatened and/or endangered

Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus


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Spotted Towhee, male

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Alternate name: Rufous-sided Towhee

Family: Emberizidae, New World Sparrows view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Has blackish hood, upperparts, and tail, with variable amounts of white on wings and back according to subspecies: interior birds have white spots on back, two white wing bars, and white on tertials and scapulars; Pacific Northwest birds have reduced white markings, with almost uniformly dark back; Southwest birds are intermediate. All birds have beady red eyes, reddish orange flanks, buff undertail coverts, and otherwise white underparts. ADULT FEMALE Recalls respective regional male, but black elements of plumage are brown. JUVENILE Brown and heavily streaked with two buff wing bars.

Dimensions Length: 7-8 1/2" (17-22 cm)

Habitat Favors dense chaparral and brush. Found year-round in much of range, but northern and interior birds are migratory; winter range extends south and east.

Observation Tips Listen for rustle of feeding birds scratching through leaf litter. Singing males are often conspicuous.

Range Plains, Southwest, Western Canada, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Texas, California

Voice Song is usually a buzzing trill preceded (or not) by variable number of sweet, whistling tuup notes.

Similar Species Eastern Towhee P. erythropthalmus (L 7.5 in) has mainly unmarked blackish upperparts, apart from white at base of primaries. An eastern species, whose range barely overlaps that of Spotted.

Discussion Colorful bird. Scratches ground with both feet together, to expose seeds and insects. Sexes are separable, but note subtle regional plumage variation.