Conservation status Very common and widespread, numbers apparently stable.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Open woods, undergrowth, brushy edges. In the varied terrain of the West, this towhee often lives in chaparral, mountain manzanita thickets, scrub oaks, or pinyon-juniper woods with dense understory.
A widespread towhee of the West, sometimes abundant in chaparral and on brushy mountain slopes. For many years it was considered to belong to the same species as the unspotted Eastern Towhees found east of the Great Plains, under the name of Rufous-sided Towhee. The Spotted Towhee differs in the heavy white spotting on its upperparts, and its songs and callnotes are more variable and much harsher in tone. It often is first noticed because of the sound of its industrious scratching in the leaf-litter under dense thickets.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, frequently scratching in the leaf-litter. Also sometimes forages up in shrubs and low trees.


3-5, sometimes 2-6. Creamy white to very pale gray, with spots of brown and gray often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-11 days after hatching, may remain with parents for some time thereafter. 1 or 2 broods per year, rarely 3.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-11 days after hatching, may remain with parents for some time thereafter. 1 or 2 broods per year, rarely 3.


Mostly insects, seeds, berries. Diet varies with season. Eats many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, caterpillars, moths, true bugs, and many others, also spiders, snails, and millipedes. Also eats many seeds, plus acorns, berries, and small fruits.


Male defends nesting territory by singing, often from a high perch. In courtship, male may chase female. Nest site is on the ground under a shrub, or in low bushes, usually less than 5' above the ground. Nest (built by female) is an open cup of grass, twigs, weeds, rootlets, strips of bark, lined with finer materials, sometimes including animal hair.

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

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Some southern populations are permanent residents, but those from the northern interior are migratory, spreading eastward onto the Great Plains in winter. Occasional strays go all the way to the Atlantic Coast.

  • 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

The song varies, long, buzzy cheweeeee. Call is an inquisitive meewww?
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Spotted Towhee

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

Climate threats facing the Spotted Towhee

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.