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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Green-tailed Towhee

Pipilo chlorurus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

There’s nothing quite like the color that gives the Green-tailed Towhee its name—a deep olive lightening to yellow-green on the edges of the wings and tail. Set off by a gray chest, white throat, and rufous crown, this large sparrow is a colorful resident of the West’s shrubby mountainsides and sagebrush expanses—if you can see one. They spend their time scratching at leaf litter under dense cover, occasionally popping into view to whistle a song or give a querulous mewing call.

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Keys to identification Help

Sparrowlike
Sparrowlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Green-tailed Towhees are small but chunky songbirds with a big head, stocky body and longish tail. The bill is thick and sparrowlike. They are larger than most sparrows and have shorter tails than most other towhees.

  • Color Pattern

    Green-tailed Towhees are grayish birds with olive-yellow wings, back and tail. The head is strongly marked with a bright rufous crown, white throat, and a dark “mustache” stripe.

  • Behavior

    Green-tailed Towhees forage on the ground or in dense shrubby foliage. They can be hard to see except when males sing from the top of a shrub. Their call, a quiet, catlike mew, can help you find them.

  • Habitat

    Look for Green-tailed Towhees in shrubby habitats of the West, particularly disturbed areas of montane forest and open slopes in the Great Basin, sagebrush steppes, and high desert. In winter, they join mixed flocks in dense mesquite areas of desert washes.

Range Map Help

Green-tailed Towhee Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Green-tailed Towhee

    Adult
    • Slender, shorter-tailed towhee
    • Rusty crown
    • Greenish wings and tail
    • White throat and mustache stripe
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Loyalton, California, June 2010
  • Adult

    Green-tailed Towhee

    Adult
    • Smaller towhee with shorter tail
    • Olive-greenish wings and tail
    • Bright rusty crown contrasts with gray face
    • White throat
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Loyalton, California, June 2010
  • Adult

    Green-tailed Towhee

    Adult
    • Slender-bodied, small towhee
    • Bright rusty crown
    • White throat
    • Bright olive-green wings and tail
    • © Michael J. Andersen, Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, California, August 2010
  • First winter

    Green-tailed Towhee

    First winter
    • Smaller and shorter-tailed than other towhees
    • First winter less brightly marked than adult
    • Bright olive-green wings and tail
    • Rusty crown still visible
    • © Jim Paris, Blue Marsh Lake, Pennsylvania, December 2011

Similar Species

The Olive Sparrow’s range overlaps with Green-tailed Towhee only in a limited portion of southwest Texas. Olive Sparrows are less colorful than Green-tailed Towhees, with a muted, olive back and dull brown stripes on the crown. The Rufous-crowned Sparrow of California and the Southwest is slightly smaller and has a streaked gray-brown back, not the unusual yellowish-green hue of a Green-tailed Towhee.

    Find This Bird

    Green-tailed Towhees can be secretive and hard to see. They live among low shrubs, so one of the best ways to find them is to visit a shrubby mountainside or sage flat during spring or early summer. Males will spend long periods perched at the tops of shrubs and singing. Their bright reddish-brown crowns (often peaked up into a short crest) are conspicuous, and the yellow-green wings and tail are distinctive. Listen, too, for their thin, ascending mew calls.