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Spotted Towhee

The Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), formerly lumped with the Eastern Towhee in one species-the "Rufous-sided Towhee", is a strikingly handsome ground forager with a black hood over its head, breast and back, white flecking on its back, rufous flanks, and a long black tail with white spots at the corners. The Spotted Towhee is a year-round resident in the western U.S., a breeding bird in the northern Rocky Mountains, and a wintering bird in the western plains and northern Mexico. The Towhee was named for one of its calls, and it is more often heard calling from a low, dense thicket than it is seen. The Spotted Towhee also gives a loud, cat-like mew and a song consisting of a few quick, slurred introductory notes followed by a short, thin trill.


Field Marks:

The Spotted Towhee has varying amounts of white flecking on its back, two white wing bars, black hood (dark brown in the females), rufous flanks, white belly and red eyes. (L. 8.5 in.)


The Spotted Towhee is a permanent resident ranging from Vancouver, British Columbia south to the Baja Peninsula and as far east as west Texas. It breeds in the Rockies from north of the Canada-Montana border south to Colorado, and it winters in the plains from Kansas south to northern Mexico

Eastern Towhee
Similar Species:

Eastern Towhee   (species account)   (all photos)

The Eastern Towhee lacks the white flecking on the back and the two white wing bars; it does have a white crescent on the outer wing primaries.

Habitat & Nesting:

The Spotted Towhee nests mostly on the ground in dense deciduous thickets. Nest predation by snakes, squirrels and Scrub Jays is a significant factor in the reproductive success of this bird.

More Information:

The Spotted Towhee has a distinctive habit of exposing insect and vegetable food hidden under leaf litter on the ground by using a two-stroke, forward-and-back, hop-and-scratch movement with both feet. The Spotted Towhee interbreeds with the Eastern Towhee in the U.S. and the Collared Towhee in Mexico, and the species classification is perennially debated.