Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Canyon Towhee

Melozone fusca

In dry foothills and canyons in the interior of the Southwest, Canyon Towhees are common in the low brush. They spend most of their time on or near the ground, often scratching in the soil with both feet as they search for food. This bird and the California Towhee were once regarded as the same species, under the name of "Brown Towhee," but their voices are very different.
Conservation status Still widespread and common, but surveys indicate declining populations in recent decades.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Brushy areas, chaparral, desert foothills, canyons, pinyon-juniper woods. Habitat varies in different parts of range, but always in brushy areas, avoiding forest and open desert. Found in open pinyon-juniper woodland, chaparral on dry hillsides, grasslands with cholla and mesquite, thickets of scrub oak, similar habitats.
In dry foothills and canyons in the interior of the Southwest, Canyon Towhees are common in the low brush. They spend most of their time on or near the ground, often scratching in the soil with both feet as they search for food. This bird and the California Towhee were once regarded as the same species, under the name of "Brown Towhee," but their voices are very different.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly or entirely on the ground. Often scratches in the dirt, but not as much as some towhees. Frequently seen feeding under things, such as logs, bushes, or parked cars.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5, rarely 6. Off-white, spotted and scrawled with reddish brown. Incubation is by female only, probably about 11 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young may leave the nest before they are able to fly, and climb about in bushes while waiting to be fed. A pair of adults may raise 2 or sometimes 3 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young may leave the nest before they are able to fly, and climb about in bushes while waiting to be fed. A pair of adults may raise 2 or sometimes 3 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. Diet includes mostly seeds in winter, more insects in summer. Young are fed almost entirely on insects. May eat some berries and small fruits at times.


Nesting

May mate for life, and pairs often stay together all year on permanent territories. Does not seem very aggressive in defense of nesting territory, sometimes tolerating intrusion by other towhees. Nest site is usually in small tree, dense shrub, or cactus, 3-12' above the ground, often placed at the base of a branch against the trunk. Nest is a bulky open cup, solidly built of twigs, weeds, grass, lined with leaves, fine grass, strips of bark, and animal hair.

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

Migration

Permanent resident and very sedentary, rarely moving even a short distance away from nesting areas.

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Migration

Permanent resident and very sedentary, rarely moving even a short distance 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 musical chili-chili-chili-chili. Call a clear chud-up.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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