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Spotted Towhee

Pipilo maculatus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Spotted Towhee is a large, striking sparrow of sun-baked thickets of the West. When you catch sight of one, they’re gleaming black above (females are grayish), spotted and striped with brilliant white. Their warm rufous flanks match the dry leaves they spend their time hopping around in. The birds can be hard to see in the leaf litter, so your best chance for an unobstructed look at this handsome bird may be in the spring, when males climb into the shrub tops to sing their buzzy songs.

Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.
Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.

Songs

Spotted Towhees have a fairly simple song, a drier faster take on the Eastern Towhee’s drink-your-tea song that often omits the middle section. It lasts about 1.5 seconds. The song starts with one or two (up to eight) short introductory notes and then a fast trill that can sound like a taut rubber band being plucked, or a piece of paper stuck into a fan. Some Spotted Towhee songs have just the trill phrase only.

Calls

Spotted Towhees make a catlike mew call, a little more than a half-second long. It seems to be used for scolding as well as by perched or foraging birds. Pairs sometimes exchange a soft, lisping call to stay in contact. Spotted Towhees also give a high, thin flight call.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Spotted Towhees are likely to visit – or perhaps live in – your yard if you’ve got brushy, shrubby, or overgrown borders. If your feeders are near a vegetated edge, towhees may venture out to eat fallen seed. If you want to attract towhees to your feeders, consider sprinkling some seed on the ground, as this is where towhees prefer to feed. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

You can find Spotted Towhee by walking slowly along the edges of forests, thickets, and overgrown fields. Listen for the Spotted Towhee’s whiny, cat-like mew call, its rapid song, or simply any rustling the bird makes in dry leaves. Look low in shrubs or along the ground in places with rich leaf litter and dense stems.

Get Involved

Explore sounds and video of Spotted Towhees from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Keep track of the Spotted Towhees at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Enhance your yard for towhees and other birds. Visit our web pages on attracting birds.

Learn more about bird photography in our Building Skills section. Then contribute your images to the Birdshare flickr site, which helps supply All About Birds and our other websites with photos.

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Downloadable "Common Feeder Birds" poster from Project FeederWatch (PDF)

Find in-depth information on Spotted Towhees and all of North America's breeding birds for as little as $5 in The Birds of North America Online (Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists' Union).