Green-tailed TowheePipilo chlorurus

adult
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
juvenile (1st summer)
Joe Fuhrman/VIREO
adult
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

Description

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.

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.

Feeding 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

Conservation

Fairly common and widespread, numbers probably stable.

Range

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.

Listen

calls #2
calls #1
songs #3
songs #2
songs #1

Similar Species

adult, Interior

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

In dry southwestern hills and canyons, where sparse brush covers the rocky slopes, pairs of Rufous-crowned Sparrows lurk in the thickets. Usually they are easy to overlook; but if they are alarmed, or if members of a pair become separated, they reveal their presence with a harsh nasal call, dear-dear-dear. Although they live in dense cover they are not especially shy if undisturbed, and a birder who sits quietly in their habitat may be able to observe them closely.

adult

Olive Sparrow

In brushy country of far southern Texas, this plain little sparrow moves about quietly in the undergrowth. With its secretive behavior and soft ticking callnotes, it often goes unnoticed at most seasons; in spring, however, its song of accelerating musical chips may be conspicuous. Despite the name, this bird is probably related more closely to the towhees than to our other sparrows; it often forages like a towhee, using its feet to scratch for food in the leaf-litter.

adult

Abert's Towhee

Along streams in the desert Southwest, a sharp pinging note in the thickets announces the presence of Abert's Towhee. If an observer tries to approach, a pair of these towhees may stay just ahead and out of sight, calling in an odd squealing duet when pressed too closely. When undisturbed, they feed on the ground under dense bushes, scratching among the leaf-litter. Many southwestern "specialty birds" have extensive ranges in the tropics, but this towhee barely gets across the border into northwestern Mexico.

adult

California Towhee

Along the Pacific seaboard from southern Oregon to Baja, this plain brown bird is a common denizen of brushy places, from wild chaparral hillsides to the borders of gardens and city parks. California Towhees sometimes hide in the shrubbery, where they may be noticed mainly by their sharp callnotes and the squealing duets of mated pairs. At other times they come out on open ground, to scratch in the leaf-litter with both feet as they search for food.

adult

Canyon Towhee

In dry foothills and canyons in the interior of the Southwest, Canyon Towhees are common in the low brush. They spend most of their time on or near the ground, often scratching in the soil with both feet as they search for food. This bird and the California Towhee were once regarded as the same species, under the name of "Brown Towhee," but their voices are very different.

Vireo

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