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Green-tailed Towhee Life History


ScrubGreen-tailed Towhees live in dense, shrubby habitat, sometimes with scattered trees or cacti. They usually do not live in unbroken forest but may occur in open pinyon-juniper forest or, at high elevations, amid scattered small conifers. The shrubby regrowth that appears 8–15 years after forest fires provides good towhee habitat. Some kinds of logging may produce similar dense, shrubby regrowth suitable for towhees. They also live in sagebrush shrubsteppe, often intermixed with shrubs and trees such as chokecherry, mountain mahogany, juniper, snowberry, and serviceberry. They may occur up to about 10,000 feet elevation. In winter they move to dry washes, arroyos, mesquite thickets, oak-juniper woodland, creosote bush, and desert grasslands, typically below about 4,000 feet elevation.Back to top


SeedsGreen-tailed Towhees eat seeds and small insects. They forage on the ground, often using the “double-scratch” technique common to many ground-dwelling sparrows and towhees. This involves hopping forward and quickly backward again, scratching and overturning the leaf litter with both feet at the same time. As the bird lands, it quickly pecks at any food it has uncovered. Food items include pigweed, filaree, dandelion, and ricegrass seeds, berries such as serviceberry, elderberry, and raspberry, and beetles, bees, wasps, caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers, bugs, and flies. Back to top


Nest Placement

ShrubGreen-tailed Towhees conceal their nests at about knee height in very dense vegetation, in the low branches of sagebrush, snowberry, chokecherry, raspberry, juniper, oak, and other shrubs and small trees.

Nest Description

Females do all the nest building, taking 2–5 days to build a deep cup of twigs, plant stems, and bark, and lining it with grasses, fine stems, rootlets and hair, sometimes from horses, cows, and porcupine. The finished nest is about 6 inches across and 3 inches tall, with a cup that’s about 2.5 inches across and 1.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.7-1.0 in (1.8-2.6 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.7 in (1.5-1.8 cm)
Incubation Period:11-13 days
Nestling Period:11-14 days
Egg Description:Pale blue, speckled with reddish brown.
Condition at Hatching:Eyes closed and mostly naked except for sparse down; weighing about one-seventh of an ounce.
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Ground ForagerGreen-tailed Towhees forage on the ground or in low, dense shrubs. Males begin to sing and defend territories soon after they arrive back on their breeding grounds. They chase off other males as well as Fox Sparrows, which share their habitat. To show aggression, males hop about or make low flights, sing, puff out their feathers, raise their crest, and shake their wings. Green-tailed Towhees form apparently monogamous pairs, although there may be some mating outside the pair bond. Males court females by offering a piece of nesting material, bowing, drooping his wings, and pointing his tail straight up. In winter, they associate in small groups and with wintering sparrows such as Brewer’s, Chipping, Black-throated, and White-crowned, as well as Spotted Towhee and Pyrrhuloxia. Their predators include many hawks and falcons, from American Kestrels to Northern Goshawks, as well as Long-eared Owls. Nest predators include jays, magpies, squirrels, weasels, chipmunks, skunks, and gopher snakes.Back to top


Low ConcernGreen-tailed Towhees are fairly common and despite some local decreases, overall their populations were stable from 1966 to 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 4.1 million with 100% spending part of the year in the U.S. and 61% wintering in Mexico. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species. Green-tailed Towhee is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. These birds are sensitive to habitat degradation in the vast sagebrush shrubsteppes of the interior West, much of which has been altered by grazing, agriculture, and changed fire regimes. In mountain forests, Green-tailed Towhees benefit from the shrubby communities that come along after forest fires, making proper fire management important for this and many other species.Back to top


Dobbs, R. C., P. R. Martin and Thomas E. Martin. (2012). Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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