The Double Cone Quarterly
Window to the Wilderness
Fall Equinox 1999 || Volume II, Number 3

Birds of the Ventana Wilderness

Spotted Towhee

Pipilo maculatus ("Spotted Chirper")

by Tom Hopkins, © 1999

Photograph by Karen Philips, © 1996

This colorful and active resident of the Ventana is usually observed in coastal scrub, chaparral and oak woodlands. The adult spotted towhee is slightly smaller and more slender than a robin, measuring about 8" from tip of bill to tip of tail. The male (shown) has a black head and chest, black back and wings with abundant white spots, and black tail with white corners conspicuous in flight. Belly is white with robin red sides. The Female has plumage like the male except that the black areas in the male are sooty brown in the female. Both sexes have bright red eyes. The juvenile, during the first summer, has a streaked breast like a large sparrow with the white tail corners and red eyes.

Spotted towhees in the Ventana spend much of their time on the ground or near it. Their typical foraging technique is to scratch through the organic litter, under shrubs, trees and occasionally in grassy areas, with both feet together looking for a variety of insects and seeds to eat. Their diet includes most insects, spiders, snails and other invertebrates, some small vertebrates, seeds, berries and acorns. Young are fed mostly insects and fruit.

During courtship, the male often chases the female then fans his tail to display the white tail corners. During courtship and especially after mating and nest building, the male is often observed perched at the top of a low tree or shrub singing a repetitious buzzy trill: "chweeeeee, chweeeeee, chweeeeee."

Nests are constructed by the female on the ground, often in a depression dug by the female. They are well hidden and usually located under chaparral or dense shrubs. Nests are sometimes located in a shrub, vine or small tree up to five feet above ground. The well concealed, bulky, cup shaped nest is constructed of bark fiber, leaves, twigs, grasses and roots then lined with fine grasses, rootlets, pine needles and animal hair.

A clutch of 3-5 gray, creamy or olive colored eggs with brownish speckles is laid from mid-April through July. The female alone incubates the eggs for 12-13 days. Both adults feed the young who generally fledge within 10-12 days. The same pair often produces a second brood, with eggs laid 10-20 days after the first brood fledges. The whole family group, including young from both broods, often remain together into early autumn.


Ehrlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, Darryl Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, a Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1988.

Peterson, Roger Tory, Western Birds, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, Third Edition, 1990.

Rising, James D., The Sparrows of the United States and Canada, Academic Press, New York, 1996.

Scott, Shirley L. (ed.), Field Guide to the Birds of North America, National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C., Third Edition, 1999.

Terres, John K., The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, Random House, New York, 1996.

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