Spotted Towhee in the Shrubs

I’ve really been enjoying my lunch time walks along the country roads near my work place in rural Comox Valley, British Columbia. With farm fields, blackberry brambles, and roadside thickets sparrows are common.

One of my favourite sparrows at any time of year is the Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus). This large, dramatic sparrow usually announces itself with a “raspy mewing” that sort of sounds like a cat. Its song is a trill that has been described as “drink your tea.”

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
Spotted Towhees (Pipilo maculatus) are common in roadside thickets.

The Spotted Towhee is a handsome sparrow that is easy to identify. Its head is dark black as is the back and wings (which are spotted with white, differentiating it from the Eastern Towhee which lacks the spots). Noticeable is the bird’s red eye and rufous flanks. Before they were split, the Spotted Towhee (western North America) and the Eastern Towhee (eastern North America) were collectively called the Rufous-sided Towhee. The breast and belly are a contrasting white. All in all, the Spotted Towhee is a beautiful and very distinctive sparrow.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
A Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) keeping a watchful eye on the birder. Often these sparrows will investigate intrusions into their territories, inciting other sparrows to join them.

Look for the spotted towhee in the shrubs and thickets that characterize roadside and forest edge habitat. It is a common visitor at feeders in the winter and can often be seen scratching in leaf litter for seeds and small invertebrates. Check out Mike’s video of a Spotted Towhee doing its double-scratching hop over at Slugyard. The backward hop uncovers things like beetles, millipedes, spiders, and wood bugs that are quickly devoured.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
A very handsome Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) – I never get tired of seeing them on my winter walks!

I see Spotted Towhees regularly on my lunch time walks and their “indignant” displays always make my day. On these gray west coast winter days, the red eye of the Spotted Towhee and its bright rufous flanks make it a sparrow worth looking for.

Read more about the Spotted Towhee over at Pacific NW Birder: Spotted Towhee.

Check out some of the other bird related posts at the latest edition of I and the Bird which is hosted by Slugyard.

I and the Bird

11 comments

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  2. I saw my first Easter Towhee just this morning, mixed in with an assortment of other sparrows and blackbirds. Then, to run across your post on IATB was simply perfect!

  3. You got some awesome shots of the Spotted Towhee Dave! One of my favorite sparrows too. They are just so spunky!

  4. I have a spotted towhee in my yard and I live in Ashcroft British Columbia.Is this common?

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  6. Hi Dayle – thanks for stopping in. Ashcroft is within the range limit for Spotted Towhee so it is definitely possible to have one in your yard. The Ashcroft Christmas Bird Count indicates that towhees were seen during the count week (but not on the count day) this year.

  7. Thanks Dave.The Towhee has been here since last summer.They seem very shy and are easily scared away.

  8. Good to hear that they’ve been around year-round, Dayle. The ones here on the coast are pretty confrontational!

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