Spotted Towhee

About Spotted Towhees

Spotted Towhees are a large species of sparrows you will mainly find on the west, right in the sun-kissed thickets. When they finally catch your line of sight, their back would be a sparkling black while white spots and strips the rest of their plumage. The rufous color on their flanks is a perfect match for the dry leaves they hop around all day. Among the dense leaves, the birds are by no means easy to spot. So, the best time to go around looking for this bird species would undoubtedly be spring, when the male Spotted Towhees go to the top of the shrubs and start singing their songs. 

Today, we’ll learn about: 

  • Spotted Towhee color patterns, songs, and size
  • Spotted Towhee behavior, habitat, and diet
  • Spotted Towhee lifecycle, nesting, and migration range


Spotted Towhees Color Pattern

The entire upper portion of Spotted Towhee is completely black, certainly, it is the case for breeding male ones. The head, throat, and back are pitch black. Yet, their belly is a beautiful shade of white while the sides of their body are rufous colored. Then, there are the wings. Wings are black but with spots of white. The tail is also black but the underpart of the tail is rufous color. There are spots of white on the back too. Their bill is black while they have red eyering. There is some white around the tail too. When they are flying, you can see flashes of white. 

The female and immature Spotted Towhees have the same appearance for the most part with few key differences. For one, their back, throat, and neck area is more on the gray side than complete black. They still have a black tail and spots of white on the black wings and the gray back. The belly is still striking white while their sides have the same rufous color. The underparts are also a delightful mix of rufous and white. The bill stays the same black shade while the red eyering is still present. The legs are rather brownish than rufous color for male and female Spotted Towhees. 

In Mexico, there is a population of Spotted Towhees that have olive on their wings, back, and head rather than black. Then, there are juvenile ones that have heavy streaks all over their body and have brown all over their plumage rather than the artfully divided black, white and rufous color mature ones have. 

Description And Identification

Spotted Towhees are easy to find. Or more accurately, their habitat is easy to find. If you live in North America, you will find them all over the north and northwest. You just need to wander around the forest edges and areas with dry leaves scattered about. The birds themselves are not that easy to spot. This is mostly due to how small they are despite being large for sparrows along with the color of their plumage that lets them camouflage themselves among the leaves and on the ground. 

So, if you are around their ideal habitat, keep your eyes trained on the ground. The areas littered with leaves are where you have the highest chance of seeing them. If you are looking for them in spring, then you want to check around on the trees to see if they are perched somewhere. Maybe you can hear their call? Do you hear the mewing sound even though there is no cat around in the vicinity? If it is not a cat, it might well be a Spotted Towhee. Or do you hear these trilly notes that don’t tend to last for more than a second? 

If you finally manage to see this bird, how can you be certain it is the species of sparrow you are looking for? Well, the dark neck, head, and back should give them away. If the black wings and back have white spots, then it is further confirmation. And do the sides have rufous color running down them while their belly is white? Spotted Towhees make a wonderful site. If you are looking for them, you want to take your camera with you. It would be a shame if you manage to spot one or two and forget to take a picture for memory!

Look at more birds on our website! Don’t know what our website does check this video out. There’s more to be enjoyed with birds with the coloring pages it can do just that. Check out the coloring page for the Spotted Towhee!

Spotted Towhee Song 

The song of Spotted Towhees can be termed fairly simple. It is a faster, albeit drier spin on the song of Eastern Towhee, the one that sounds like they are telling you to drink your tea. Except in the case of Spotted Towhee’s song, the middle section is often missing. The songs are about 1.5 seconds long at best. The song begins on a one to two-note. Sometimes, it rises up to eight notes, all introductory and short in nature. 

Then, they let out a trilly, super-fast sound. It feels as if someone’s pulling on a rubber band or as if a piece of paper has somehow made its way into the blades of the fans and is now making a startlingly annoying sound. In the case of certain Spotted Towhees, they don’t bother with the introduction. You only hear the trilly phrases from them. 

Then, there is the call of Spotted Towhees. The call sounds a lot like mewing and lasts slightly more than half a second. The call appears to have various uses. It can be for scolding predators or their young ones or the ones they give out when they are perched somewhere. Sometimes, there is communication between pairs using a lispy call. It is much softer than their usual call. When they are flying, a thin, high-pitched call is also let out by Spotted Towhees. 

Spotted Towhee Size

For a sparrow, Spotted Towhees are certainly large, though they are still small birds. They have a chunky shape, and a long, albeit round tail. Their bill is thick and short and certainly of a sharp nature. There is not much to their neck area, to the point it is invisible. Overall, even song sparrows are two-thirds smaller than them. They are also twice the size of song sparrows. Alternatively, a robin still happens to be bigger than them. 

In length, they stand to about 17 cm to 21 cm. In weight, they can be anywhere around  33 g to 49 g. Male Spotted Towhees are healthier than female ones. Their wingspan is long for their body size, about 28 cm. 

Spotted Towhee Behavior

The foraging part happens mostly on ground level. Frequently, they are seen poking around the litter of leaves. Sometimes, they would look for their food in shrubs or the trees that are of lower height. They do this thing where they hop around, moving in deliberate steps and giving them enough time to check for food lying about. 

They do a backward hop with two feet to scratch the leaves. Then, if anything comes up, they pounce at it with lightning speed. 

If conflicts happen between Spotted Towhees, one of them might grab a twig, leaf, or bark and then carry it with them. In their language, this seems to indicate submission. If Spotted Towhees are disturbed or they are calling in alarm, they might flick their wings from where they are perched. The white corners of their tails are also flashed by them. 

What Spotted Towhees Eat

Like most bird species of this size, their food consumption is limited to insects, berries, and seeds. The diet changes depending on the season. The summer sees them munching on insects more, especially true bugs, caterpillars, beetles, etc. Spiders, millipedes are part of their diet too.  Berries, acorns, seeds, and small fruits are also largely appreciated by them.  

Here are some bird seeds that would be good to look into safflower seeds, wild bird seeds, and black oil seeds.

Where Spotted Towhees Live And Habitat

Spotted Towhees have chosen woods, brushy edges, and forests with undergrowth as their habitat. The west allows them a big terrain where they can spend their time in thickets of mountains, chaparral, scrub oaks, or woods with pinyon junipers. 

Birdbaths are a must to have birds in your home here are a few that you can look into birdbath, concrete birdbath, and solar birdbath.

Range and Migration

The Spotted Towhee resides in high forests with a dry atmosphere. They breed all over the northwest side of North America. Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and south of British Columbia are among the many places constantly visited by this bird species all year. Their range has expanded to the west of Iowa and southwest of Minnesota. The habitat Spotted Towhee prefers often overlaps with places in the United States that are experienced with forest fires. As a result, they tend to avoid burned chaparral and stick to unburned forests and chaparrals. 

Migration sees them in the north and northwest side of the United States, and southwest of Canada. Here, they breed in gardens and parks in the suburbs. The coasts of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho see them too. The birds from the northwest move to the east to end up on the United States’ central plains, which mostly end up being the Great Plains. 

If you thought the Spotted Towhee migration was cool here are some more migration patterns for other birds. The Purple Martin, Baltimore Oriole, and Duck migration.

Spotted Towhee Lifecycle

Spotted Towhees usually have 3 to 5 eggs in a brood. Sometimes, they might give birth to a mere 2 or a more generous number of 6. The eggs can be a creamy white color to a pale shade of gray. The larger ends might have brown or gray spots. The female Spotted Towhee does the incubating, which lasts for about 12 to 14 days. 

Once the eggs are hatched, the nestlings are fed by both sets of parents. About 9 to 11 days since birth, the young ones are old enough to leave the nest. Even so, they might choose to stay with their parents for some time even after that. In a year, Spotted Towhees have about 2 broods. 3 is a rare occurrence but it does happen. 


After deciding on a nesting territory, the male Spotted Towhees defends it by singing. They do this by perching on a high place, on an elevated shrub, or a post. The courtship may involve some chasing from the male part towards the female. 

The nest site is usually somewhere they can hide from the view of others. So, it might be on the ground if a shrub is hanging above it. Or, they keep it on a low bush, with about 5’ range from the ground at most. The female Spotted Towhee makes the nest with weed, bark strips, grass, weeds, and rootlets. It is an open cup nest lined with animal hair and some fine materials. 

Anatomy of a Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhees are not exactly large but for sparrows, they are quite big. They have a huge, round, chunky belly. Their bill is short, thick, and without any curve. It is sharp and ideal for grabbing insects and eating berries. Then, there is the tail, which is long for their body shape and rounded properly. They have thin legs and matching thin feet. Their head is small but does not seem out of place on their body. The neck portion is short and almost non-existent for this bird species. Then, their eyes are big according to their head size and round. Their wings also happen to be bigger than what you would assume from their size. 

Final Thoughts

To find a Spotted Towhee, leisure walks along the thickets, fields with overgrown vegetation, and forest edges are called for. Listen closely to hear the whined outcalls from them, the ones that sound like a cat meowing. Or you can hear their fast-paced song or the rustling it produces as the bird moves around dry leaves. Look around low shrubs or check the ground closely where leaves are scattered around or a stack of stems can be seen. These are the places Spotted Towhee feels the safest hiding in. 

They are extremely easy to spot as they are widespread birds. Their number has been stable for a long time and doesn’t seem on the verge of declining any time soon. They are the kind of birds that show up in your backyard every now and then. So, you might not even have to go on a birding expedition to meet them. 


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Spotted Towhee 

The most common types of bird-watching binoculars for viewing Spotted Towhee are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Spotted Towhee Iron On Patches 

Kids, Youth, and Adults love to collect our Bird Watching Academy & Camp iron-on patches. Our bird-watching patches help you keep track of the birds you have seen and identified. You can also display the patches on our Bird Watching Academy & Camp banners.

The Spotted Towhee is a great iron-on patch to start your collection with. The patches are durable and can be sewn on or ironed on to just about anything.

Spotted Towhee Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Spotted Towhee. Here is the sticker pack we sell with a Spotted Towhee sticker.

Bird Feeders For Spotted Towhee

There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.

Want to know how to make your own bird feeder check this out! Here is some other birdfeeder you might want, Oriole birdfeeder and Suet bird feeder.

Best Birdhouses for Spotted Towhee

There are many types of birdhouses. Building a birdhouse is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 birdhouses have become our favorites. Getting a birdhouse for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these birdhouses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.

There’s lots of birdhouse to choice from but here are some of our favorites; Dove birdhouse, Chickadee birdhouse, and Finch birdhouse.

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