In Scope: Spotted Towhee

spotted towhee


And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly and swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly over the earth in the open expanse of the heavens. ~ Genesis 1:20



    Since my very beginnings as a junior bird watcher one of the birds that has always been sweetly familiar is the Spotted Towhee.  Ever since I was a young kid (eight years old and younger) I can remember seeing towhees frequenting our yard  especially in the winter.  Maybe it was the irony of their mewing call that sounds very much like a cat or their jovial personalities, but Towhees have always had a special place in my heart.

   And since the Spotted Towhee is one of our most common birds of winter, this species has gained a special spot as the first bird featured in this New Year's 2015 edition of In Scope!  Even though its chilly this time of year, a visit from our Spotted Towhees never fails to warm my heart, no matter what the temperature is outside.


   My earliest memories of towhees were when I discovered them in our front yard one fine fall day, scratching vigorously through the leafy matter beneath the bushes in our front flowerbed.  I grabbed my trusty red book' field guide (you know, the Audubon one with the washable cover)  and turned the pages to find that this interesting species was called the Towhee.  What an unusual name I thought  but right then in there, the memory of this towhee had etched itself on my young, impressionable, nature-loving mind.  Ever since then, I've enjoyed the privilege of identifying many birds, in our yard and beyond  in different parts of the state, but the towhee sticks in my mind as one of the very first species I identified.

    This month, we're featuring the Spotted Towhee.  In this article you will learn much about towhees in general, but let's start things off with some fun facts about this species!

Fun Facts

    Did you know...







Feeding and Gardening for Towhees

One of our Spotted Towhee friends....

    Since the Spotted Towhee is a frequent visitor to yards and gardens, there is much that can be done to attract them to your yard, though chances are, they're already there!  If that's the case, then you can do a lot to make your yard even more appealing to this species.



    When it comes to feeding Towhees, they are very easy to please.  One word of caution however comes from my own experience; its kind of a funny story, but it could have turned out much different for a certain little towhee if we hadnt realized what was going on!  Anyway, this is the story...

    About four years ago, I had made some special batches of suet.  For Christmas, my parents had given me (among other things) some special gourmet nuts, fruit and mealworm mixes, made especially for wild birds.  If your stomach turned, my apologies, yes I really did say mealworms.  But dont worry too much, the mealworms werent live  they were roasted before they ever made it to our house!  Haha!  But truly, I really did have mealworms on my Christmas list!  Yes (confession alert) - only a birder could have empty suet trays stored in her dresser, bird feeders and suet making supplies in her closet and mealworms on her Christmas wish list.  I'm talking about your's truly :) Thats beside the point, but a funny part to this story nonetheless.  Anyway, with these special gourmet bird food mixes I made some gourmet suet  one with peanut butter and cornmeal added in, another without.  My homemade suet seemed to be just the thing to draw in a wide variety of birds  and draw them in it did! 

   The peanut butter suet turned out to be a major hit with the towhees, one of which became so attached to it that he would scarcely leave the feeder!  We found him on multiple occasions nodding off to sleep all fluffed up next to his favorite PB suet  on the feeder!!!  All he seemed to do was sleep on the feeder, wake up and eat PB suet and fall asleep once more. 



This little fellow was nodding off to sleep on the feeder because he was so full of seeds and PB suet!


    Looking back on it now, he may also have been not feeling well, but thats something well never know for sure, given the fact that towhees have a knack for resting in wide-open spaces, even open lawns!  This towhee began to grow quite plump.  Concerned lest he become a very vulnerable prey, we removed the suet, and our little towhee friend had to forage for his own food once more.  From this and other experiences we learned how to better feed our wild bird friends.

    With that in mind, it is a lot of fun to feed our Towhee friends; we just have to be mindful and watchful over what is going on at our feeding stations.  Here are just some of the many things that Spotted Towhees like to eat!

Preferred Foods



Berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, bayberries, etc.)

Baked goods (bread, bread crumbs, donuts, crackers, etc.)


Corn (cornmeal or cracked corn)



Grass seed


White Proso Millet



Peanut Butter


Sunflower seeds


    Just be sure to offer these foods in moderation  your towhee friends will thank you for the treats with plenty of entertaining visits!

This towhee was enjoying our feeder offerings emmensely!


Gardening for Towhees

    Not only are towhees easy to please when it comes to feeder foods, but they also are not picky when it comes to plants.  Towhees are ground and close to the ground dwellers, so bushes, shrubs and hedges are some of their favorite types of plants.  Almost any type of shrubbery will do - which is why I don't have a very long list of recommended plants this time.  In our yard, the Towhees enjoy our Camellia bush, as well as rhodadendrons and evergreen trees.



A beautiful purple rhodadendron - not only do rhodies have beautiful blooms, but they make great cover for Towhees and many other birds.


Zoom In: Species Profil

    The Spotted Towhee is a large sparrow, slightly smaller than a robin at 8 ΒΌ inches in length.  Its scientific name is Pipilo maculatus.  Males and females look slightly different from one another.  The male has a black head, back and tail, white underside and rufous brown sides.  He also has white wing markings that look very much like spots, hence this birds name.  They also have white tail edges.  The female looks very much the same, but has grayish brown markings where the male has black.

Having some seeds at the feeder...This was a mix of white proso millet and black oil sunflower seeds.


    The voice of the Spotted Towhee includes a variety of sounds, including various notes, trills, dry, rasping calls and a mew call.  They sometimes can sound like they are saying, Tow-hee.

    The diet of the Spotted Towhee consists mostly of insects like beetles, crickets and grasshoppers, caterpillars (and moths), spiders as well as bees and wasps and much more.  Spotted Towhees also eat nuts, seeds and grains including buckwheat, thistle, acorns, oats, wheat and corn.  Berries and fruit are also eaten by this species  they like raspberries, blackberries, and cherries.  They eat more insects in the spring and summer and more seeds, nuts, grains and fruit in the fall and winter.

    The preferred habitat of the Spotted Towhee is brushy thickets, woodland edges, pasturelands and agricultural areas, wetland areas and backyard gardens with grassy areas and plenty of shrubs.  Flowerbeds with large shrubs and decomposing leaves under them are favorite places for towhees to forage for food.  They will also make use of areas that have been logged.

    The Spotted Towhees nest is usually constructed on or near the ground.  It is made up of a depression in the ground, surrounded and filled with leaves, tree bark and grass.  The nest is built by the female after which she lays 3-5 eggs inside.  The pair raises their young together.

    In our area, Spotted Towhees are year round residents.  In other parts of their range across the Western United States, they may be only summer residents in the north and winter residents in the south.  Some towhees do not migrate; others are partially migratory.  They are distributed over the Western United States including Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, as well as parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.  They can also be found in parts of Canada and Mexico.


    As I was writing this article, I was thinking about how God takes care of us and how He takes care of the birds.  And the verses below came to mind.  Id like us to contemplate them as we close this month, because they tell us of the amazing love and care God has for each one of His creatures.  For that reason, I often think of these verses when I see my beloved towhee friends...

Matthew 10:29-31 Amplified

    Are not two little sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's leave (consent) and notice.  But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not then; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Meal time over - this little towhee looks ready for a nap!

   On these cold winter mornings, when I look out my window at the frozen world outside, glistening with frost like glitter I love to see how many little birds fly in and out of the bushes in our yard.  Its always a marvel to me how they go about their day, without a care in this world, all because they trust and know that their Creator provides for them.  We can have that same trust and confidence in God.  He truly will take care of you!

    In this new year, I think its important to keep our minds on the fact that we can trust God with our lives, with everything.  Happy New Year everyone!

    By, Jessi Wasell