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Bird Bio: Spotted Towhee

Bird Bio: Spotted TowheeSpotted Towhee
By: Jonathan Berti, KBO Banding Intern

Many of the bird species that grace this area during the summer months and fall migration have disappeared. To the birding enthusiast, the winter slump in bird diversity may bring dismay. However, it does allow us to appreciate species that choose to rough it through the winter here in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion.

The Spotted Towhee, Piplio maculatus, is a bird whose company we can enjoy in southern Oregon all year long. Although its breeding range extends throughout western North America, from southern Saskatchewan and British Columbia to the highlands of Guatemala, where populations winter, it is found primarily west of the Cascades and in small numbers throughout eastern Cascade lowlands. Distinguished from the Eastern Towhee as a unique species, our rufous-sided resident is distinct, with spotty wings and a characteristic red iris which develops with maturity. It typically inhabits willow thickets and dense growth near a riparian zone, scratching away at the ground loudly as it forages for seeds and berries, or builds its cup-shaped nest, which it usually cuddles in to a nicely formed shallow depression in the earth.

KBO banding interns are well acquainted with the Spotted Towhee, as it is a common capture at most of our regional bird monitoring stations. Nevertheless, Oregon Breeding Bird Survey routes report a 1.0% decline in the Spotted Towhee during the last 4 decades. The Spotted Towhee is not considered threatened in our state, but is known to be sensitive to land-use patterns, such as grazing in riparian areas. Given this, KBO’s monitoring programs are keeping a close eye on resident species like the Spotted Towhee, and are acquiring data that may help ensure that this commonly encountered bird retains habitat locally, and stays common.

This article appears in KBO’s winter 2008 newsletter.

Birds of Oregon edited by D.B. Marshall, M.G. Hunter, & A.L. Contreras; The Sibley Guide to Birds of North America by D.A. Sibley; The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of Birds of North America by P. Ehrlich, D.S. Dobkin, D. Wheye

Spotted Towhee. Photo: J. Livaudais