Illustration: Eastern towhee

Illustration by Peter Burke


Map: Eastern towhee range


The eastern behaves similarly to the spotted towhee. Length 7.5" (19 cm).

Identification Conspicuous white corners on tail and white patch at base of pri­maries. Male: black upperparts, hood; rufous sides, white underparts. Female: black areas replaced by brown. Juvenile: brownish streaks below.

Geographic Variation Four subspecies show weak to moderate variation. Bird’s overall size and the extent of white in its wings and tail decline from the northern part of the range to the Gulf Coast; bill, leg, and foot sizes increase. The large nominate subspecies (breeds in North) has red irides, most extensive white in tail. Smaller alleni of Florida paler and duller, with straw-colored irides. Intermediate southern subspecies canaster (west) and rileyi (east) have variably orange to straw-colored irides.

Similar Species See spotted towhee.

Voice Call: emphatic, upslurred chewink; in alleni, a clearer, even-pitched or upslurred swee. Also a high-pitched szeeueet, dropping in middle (poss. flight note). Various chips when agitated. Song: loud ringing drink your tea, sometimes with additional notes at beginning or shortened to drink tea.

Status and Distribution Fairly common. Breeding: partial to second growth with dense shrubs and extensive leaf litter, coastal scrub or sand dune ridges, and mature southern pinelands. Migration: resident, except for partially migratory nominate subspecies. Migration primarily October and March. Vagrant: casual to Colorado and New Mexico. Accidental to Arizona, Idaho, and Europe.

Population Recent declines, especially in North, are due to urbanization. Southern populations more stable.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

Bird Features

  • Illustration of great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

  • Picture of a hummingbird

    Backyard Birds Quiz

    How much do you know about the feathered visitors to your backyard? Put your avian IQ to the test with this quiz.

See More Bird Features »

National Geographic Magazine

  • Photo: bowerbird mating game between female and male bowerbirds.

    Bowerbirds Gallery

    To woo a "Mary," bowerbirds decorate with shells, cans, even pink paper clips.

  • Photo: Female whooping crane feeding her young

    Counting Cranes

    How many whooping cranes are there? Not enough. See photos of these birds in action.

Animals A-Z