Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus


Common in brushy habitats and undergrowth usually solitary foraging on ground in leaf litter. Spotted Towhees are a large sparrow with a thick, pointed bill, short neck, chunky body, and long, rounded tail. Identifying features are the rufous flanks and black and white tail, white spots on scapulars and white wing bars.


Male Spotted Towhees have jet-black upperparts and throat; their wings and back are spotted bright white. The flanks are warm rufous and the belly is white. Females have the same pattern but are warm brown where males are black. In flight, look for white corners to the black tail. There is some geographic variation in voice and plumage between great plains populations and Northwestern populations.

Measurements Both Sexes:
Length: 6.7–8.3 in 17–21 cm
Wingspan: 11 in 28 cm
Weight: 1.2–1.7 oz 33–49 g

Adult Male: Black hood and white belly Red eye, Rufous flanks and undertail and prominent white spots and streaks on wings and back.

Adult female: Brownish hood and white belly, Rufous flanks and undertail, prominent white spots and streaks on wings and back, black tail with white near tip.

Juvenile: Brownish hood and speckled belly lacking rufous flanks, wing bars and spot not prominent, red eye color dulled.

Similar Species: Eastern Towhees have a plain black back with no white spots or wing-bars. In the narrow part of the Great Plains where these two species overlap, people quite often find hybrids. In some older versions of bird Identification books both Eastern and Spotted Towhees are referred to as Rufous –sided Towhee.

Behavior: Forages on ground by scratching vigorously in leaf litter for seeds and insects Towhees tend to hop wherever they go, moving deliberately and giving themselves plenty of time to spot food items. They scratch at leaves with a characteristic two-footed backward hop, then pounce on anything they’ve uncovered. During conflicts between two towhees, you may see one bird pick up a piece of twig, bark, or leaf and carry it around. This seems to be an indication of submission.
Habitat: Brushy habitats, sunny clearings and brushy undergrowth in open forests are usually where you find the Spotted Towhee. There range from southern and Western Canada down to Mexico.


Spotted Towhees tend to be resident birds or short distant migrants.

Conservation Status:

Widespread and abundant, increasing in some areas as development creates more of their shrubby, open habitat, despite their vulnerability to predation by cats. Forms on a few islands off California and Mexico may be affected by habitat loss or overgrazing.
Capture Rates

The Spotted Towhee is a year round resident of the thickets and brushy habitat of Colony Farm. Capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) peak during the winter months when non-breeding birds forage throughout the banding area.


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