Spotted Towhee

Pipilo maculatus
Subspecies for Spotted Towhee
Range Map for Subspecies of Spotted Towhee

When I was a wee lad and showing a budding interest in birds, we called this bird the “Rufous-Sided Towhee.” I remember how impressed I was with their piercing fiery-red ruby eyes and striking plumage worn by these birds.

In 1995, taxonomists split the Spotted Towhee and the Eastern Towhee from the Rufous-Sided Towhee into their own distinct species. This bird makes its home year-round in most ecosystems that San Diego County offers, be it coastal sage-scrub, riparian, mountain chaparral or evergreen woods. Only locations on the desert side of the coastal mountains are these birds unlikely to be found. In the western USA there are only a few places where these birds aren’t seen, either year-round or part of the year. Western Arizona and California’s Mojave Desert are outside of their expected range.

Today’s scientists divide the species into 21 subspecies. This is too many to describe in this presentation, but the graphic above from Cornell should provide some context. The map above lists P. m. socorroensis as a subspecies, but some scholars regard it as a separate species. The map shows an incorrect location for Isla Socorro. The actual location would be close to where the “m” in the word macronyx is placed.

Most listeners who hear this bird sing would not call their song a melodic masterpiece. It’s a trilled whistle or buzzy utterance and has a harsh quality, but if the listener could only witness the enthusiastic, fully committed delivery, with head tilted back and mandible open wide, it would be hard not to love the concert.

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