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Species Description

Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Species Image


Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Emberizidae


Red eye (white in peninsular Florida); rufous sides and white belly; outer tail feathers tipped with white; some white on the wings. The males have a black head, back, wings, and tail. The head, back, wings, and tail of females are brown. 22 cm (8.5 in) in length. The Eastern Towhee was previously grouped with the western Spotted Towhee, and both were formerly known as the Rufous-sided Towhee. The Eastern Towhee has a distinctive song that sounds like drink-your-teaaaaaa. Their call sounds like their name, tow-whee.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in mid-April, peaks from May to early June, and extends until mid-August. Breeding habitat for this species includes woodland areas with a dense understory and shrub layer. The nest is usually placed in or under a thicket or shrub from 0-1.5 m (0-5 feet) above the ground. The nest is cup-shaped when above the ground, and is a depression scratched into the soil when on the ground. The nest is built by the female out of leaves, grass, and other plant material. The female lays 2-6 (usually 3-4) eggs that she incubates for 12-13 days. The young are altricial and fledge 10-12 days after hatching. The young are cared for by both adults, but only the female broods the young while they are in the nest. After the young fledge, the family group will stay together through the summer.

Natural History

The habitat of this species is similar all year, primarily because this species is not migratory. Habitats having a thick understory and shrub layer are important for the Eastern Towhee. The diet consists mostly of insects, fruits, and seeds. The Eastern Towhee forages by scratching at leaf litter and picking food items off the ground or nearby vegetation.


Eastern Towhee Region Map The Eastern Towhee occurs in most of the eastern United States during the breeding season and occurs all year in the southern three-fourths of the East. This species is common to very common throughout the Southeast, except in extreme southern Florida and northern and western Virginia. In Georgia it is more common in the central portions of the state, but it occurs throughout the state all year.

Conservation Status

The Eastern Towhee is a frequent host for the Brown-headed Cowbird, which lays its eggs in other birds' nests. The other birds then raise the cowbird young instead of or in addition to their own young. The Eastern Towhee is not listed as Threatened or Endangered in any of its southeastern range.

Similar Species

The species most similar to the Eastern Towhee is the Spotted Towhee. These two species were once classified as the same species. The Spotted Towhee occurs in western parts of the United States, and has white spots on the upper parts of its body and white wing bars.