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Spotted Towhee

Pipilo maculatus

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

In 1995, the Spotted Towhee and the Eastern Towhee were split 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.

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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