Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Green-tailed Towhee

Pipilo chlorurus

A catlike mewing call in the bushes may reveal the presence of the Green-tailed Towhee. Fairly common in western mountains in summer, this bird spends most of its time in dense low thickets, where it forages on the ground. Like other towhees, it scratches in the leaf-litter with both feet as it searches for food. It sometimes wanders east in fall, and strays may show up at bird feeders in winter as far east as the Atlantic Coast.
Conservation status Fairly common and widespread, numbers probably stable.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Brushy mountain slopes, low chaparral, open pines, sage, manzanita, riverine woods. Breeds in a variety of semi-open habitats, mostly in mountains; typically where there is dense low cover of sagebrush, manzanita, or other bushes, and a few taller trees such as scattered pines. In migration and winter, mostly in dense low brush, often near streams.
A catlike mewing call in the bushes may reveal the presence of the Green-tailed Towhee. Fairly common in western mountains in summer, this bird spends most of its time in dense low thickets, where it forages on the ground. Like other towhees, it scratches in the leaf-litter with both feet as it searches for food. It sometimes wanders east in fall, and strays may show up at bird feeders in winter as far east as the Atlantic Coast.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile (1st summer)
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground under thickets, often scratching in the leaf-litter like other towhees. Also sometimes forages up in low bushes. Will come to bird feeders, but typically forages on the ground below the feeding tray.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. White, with heavy dotting of brown and gray often concentrated at larger end. Details of incubation are not well known. If adult is disturbed at nest, the bird may slip away quietly through the brush or may drop to the ground and scurry away like a rodent. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known. Possibly 2 broods per year.


Young

Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known. Possibly 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mainly insects and seeds. Diet is not known in detail, but includes various insects such as beetles, crickets, and caterpillars. Also eats many seeds of weeds and grasses, and sometimes feeds on berries and small fruits.


Nesting

Nesting behavior is not well studied. Male defends nesting territory by singing, often from a prominent raised perch. Nest site is on the ground or in low shrubs such as sagebrush, usually lower than 3' above the ground. Nest is a large, deep cup, loosely made of twigs, grass, weeds, strips of bark, lined with fine grass, rootlets, animal hair.

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

Migration

Migrates relatively early in fall and late in spring. Wanderers east of the normal range occur mostly in fall, although some may stay through the winter.

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Migration

Migrates relatively early in fall and late in spring. Wanderers east of the normal range occur mostly in fall, although some may stay through the winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song a loud, lively series of slurred notes and short, buzzy trills. Call a short, nasal mew.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
New World Sparrows Perching Birds

Green-tailed Towhee

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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