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Spotted Towhee - BirdForum Opus

Adult male, subspecies P. m. megalonyx
Photo © by digishooter
El Dorado Nature Preserve: Long Beach, California, USA, 1 June 2008
Pipilo maculatus


Juvenile, subspecies P. m. falcifer
Photo © by ducbucln
Kelseyville, California, 24 July 2018

17·7–21·3 cm (7-8½ in)

  • Black head, nape and throat
  • White spotted, black wings
  • White bars on wings
  • Rufous sides
  • White belly
  • Long dark tail with white edges
  • Red eyes

Female similarly marked, though browner or greyer


The species tends to vary in color and voice from place to place. It's feathers are lightest in the Great Plains, and darkest in the Pacific Northwest.


Breeds from southern British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan south to California and the Southwest, east to central Dakota and western Texas as well as in Baja California and through higher elevation in mainland Mexico to Guatemala.
Northern populations migratory: winters from British Columbia, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska south to Baja California and east to Oklahoma and south-central Texas and into northern Mexico.


Until recently this species was combined with the Eastern Towhee as a single species, the Rufous-sided Towhee. They are now considered distinct species and vary considerably in voice and appearance. The two species are known to interbreed where they come in contact.


This is a polytypic species consisting of twenty-two subspecies, which Clements place in 5 groups[1]:

  • P. m. oregonus: Coastal south-western British Columbia to south-western Oregon; winters to southern California
  • P. m. falcifer: Coastal n Calif. (Del Norte to Santa Cruz and San Benito counties)
  • P. m. megalonyx: Coastal southern California (Monterey) to north-western Baja California and Santa Cruz Island
  • P. m. clementae: Santa Rosa, Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands (off southern California)
  • P. m. umbraticola: North West Baja California (latitude 32°N to 30°N)
  • P. m. consobrinus: formerly Isla Guadalupe (off western Baja California). Extinct; last observed in 1897
  • P. m. magnirostris: Mountains of southern Baja California (Sierra de la Laguna)
  • P. m. arcticus: Great Plains of North America to sw US; winters to ne Mexico
  • P. m. curtatus: South East British Columbia to north-eastern California, Nevada and Idaho; winterns to south-eastern California
  • P. m. falcinellus: Interior south-western Oregon to Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley
  • P. m. montanus: South West US to north-western Mexico; winters to northern Mexico
  • P. m. gaigei: Mountains of New Mexico, w Texas and n Mexico (n Coahuila)
  • P. m. griseipygius: Mountains of w Mexico (Sierra Madre Occidental)
  • P. m. orientalis: Mountains of eastern Mexico (Sierra Madre Oriental)
  • P. m. maculatus: Highlands of eastern Mexico (Hidalgo to Veracruz and eastern Puebla)
  • P. m. sympatricus: Mountains of eastern Mexico (Sierra de Tuxtla of Veracruz)
  • P. m. vulcanorum: Mountains of central Mexico (México, north-eastern Morelos, south-western Tlaxcala and western Puebla)
  • P. m. oaxacae: Highlands of southern Mexico (northern and central Oaxaca)
  • P. m. chiapensis: Mountains of southern Mexico (central Chiapas)
  • P. m. repetens: Mountains of southern Mexico (south-eastern Chiapas) and western Guatemala
  • P. m. macronyx: Mountains of central Mexico (eastern Michoacán, México, Morelos, District Federal)
  • P. m. socorroensis: Socorro Island (Revillagigedo Islands off western Mexico)


Dense deciduous and mixed thickets. High altitude mixed forests.



They often feed on the ground, scratching noisily in the dry leaves.


Their diet consists mostly of insects, especially during the breeding season, acorns, seeds and berries.


They nest either on the ground or low in bushes. The nest is built by the female from leaves, strips of bark, twigs, forb stalks and grass. It is lined with pine needles, shredded bark, grass and sometimes hair. The clutch consists of up to 5 greyish or creamy-white eggs, which sometimes have a greenish tinge, with reddish brown spots that can form a wreath or cap. The female incubates the eggs alone for 12 to 13 days; the young leave the nest at 10 to 12 days. They have at least two broods each year. Their nests are sometimes parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds.


Song variable, but typically two “chip” notes followed by a trill. On US Pacific coast a dry buzz, often lacking introductory notes. Call note a nasal “pshew” or “meeew”, and a quiet “tseep.”


Northern populations migratory, and coastal, insular and Mexican populations resident.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Avibase
  3. Rising, J. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/62011 on 6 March 2020).
  4. Bartos Smith, S. and J. S. Greenlaw (2020). Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.spotow.01

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