Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

California Towhee

Melozone crissalis

Along the Pacific seaboard from southern Oregon to Baja, this plain brown bird is a common denizen of brushy places, from wild chaparral hillsides to the borders of gardens and city parks. California Towhees sometimes hide in the shrubbery, where they may be noticed mainly by their sharp callnotes and the squealing duets of mated pairs. At other times they come out on open ground, to scratch in the leaf-litter with both feet as they search for food.
Conservation status Probably has declined locally, with increasing development and urbanization along California coast, but still very common in much of its range.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Brushy areas, chaparral, coastal scrub, gardens. Found in a wide variety of dense low habitats, including streamside thickets, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woods, coastal sage scrub, semi-desert scrub, edges and openings in oak woodland, and well-vegetated gardens and city parks.
Along the Pacific seaboard from southern Oregon to Baja, this plain brown bird is a common denizen of brushy places, from wild chaparral hillsides to the borders of gardens and city parks. California Towhees sometimes hide in the shrubbery, where they may be noticed mainly by their sharp callnotes and the squealing duets of mated pairs. At other times they come out on open ground, to scratch in the leaf-litter with both feet as they search for food.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, sometimes scratching among the leaf-litter. Often comes to bird-feeders, but may do much of its foraging on the ground under the feeding tray.


Eggs

3-4, rarely 2-5. Pale bluish-white, marked with brown and black. Incubation is by the female, about 11 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young may leave the nest after as little as 8 days, before they are able to fly well; remain with parents for several more weeks. A pair may raise 2 or 3 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young may leave the nest after as little as 8 days, before they are able to fly well; remain with parents for several more weeks. A pair may raise 2 or 3 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. Majority of diet, especially in winter, consists of seeds of weeds and grasses, also some waste grain. Also eats insects (including caterpillars and beetles), especially in summer, and eats some berries and small fruits. Young are fed mostly or entirely on insects.


Nesting

May mate for life, and pairs may remain together on breeding territory all year. Male is very aggressive in defending this territory, actively attacking intruding males or even his own reflection. Nest site is usually in a dense shrub or low tree, typically 4-12' above the ground, but may be very low (sometimes on the ground) or up to 30' or higher. Nest is a bulky open cup, rather loosely made of twigs, grass, weeds, strips of bark, lined with finer grass, rootlets, animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident, rarely moving even short distances away from nesting areas.

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Migration

Permanent resident, rarely moving even short distances away from nesting areas.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song is a series of squeaky chips on the same pitch, accelerating into a rapid trill. The pattern varies according to the geographical area. The call is a sharp chink and thin tseeee.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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