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.

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.


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.


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


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 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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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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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