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Spotted Towhee spotted towhee

Identification and Pictures

(Pipilo maculatus)spotted towhee male

Spotted towhees are smaller than a robin, about 8 inches.  Like many songbirds the male has striking plumage.  His head and upper parts are black.  They have a thick pointed, black bill, and fire red eyes.  The sides are rufous, and the breast and belly are white.  White spots stand out on the black back, and wings.  The long tail is black with large white spots at the corners which are visible in flight.  The female is similar, but has brown where the male has black.  The young are streaked below.

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

     spotted towhee female

Spotted towhee and Eastern towhee until recently were considered one species.  The birds were also called Rufous-sided towhees.


Their song is a long buzzy chweeee.  In some areas the bird is called a chewink because of the sound of their alarm.  Other sounds are shenk, chup-chup zedededee, and a cat-like meew call.

Sound 1   sound 2

Preferred Habitat

Spotted towhees can be found in much of the western half of North America.  In the far west they are year round residents, and in other areas they migrate south for winter.  They like open woods with thick under growth, forest edges, and canyons.  They are often found in residential shrubbery.  They spend much time hopping around in leaves in the undergrowth, and can be hard to see but their rustling gives them away.

Breeding and Nesting

spotted towheeIn spring males can be seen on a perch singing, as they try to attract a mate, and defend their territories.  The female picks the nest site, and builds a nest of grass, leaves, and bark lined with pine needles, hair, and other materials.  Nests are usually built on the ground or in low bushes.  She will lay 3 to 5 whitish or slightly greenish eggs with reddish brown spots and incubate them for 12 to 14 days.  Both parents will feed the young birds which may leave the nest in around 10 days but will not fly for 5 to 6 days more.  The parents will feed the young for another 30 days.  Their nests are sometimes parasitized by Cowbirds.


Spotted towhee's main diet is seeds but they also eat insects, and fruit.  Although they do search for food in trees they mainly forage on the ground.  They scratch the ground by kicking both feet backward at the same time to uncover food.  These birds prefer to forage in bushes with leaves on the ground, making quite a racket as they rustle through the leaves.  If you have a seed feeder near bushes towhees may search for seeds fallen, or sprinkled on the ground.

For more on food and feeding click here.
For more on feeders click here.

To learn about other favorite birds click here.

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