Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)


French: Tohi à flancs roux German: Rötelgrundammer Spanish: Toquí flanquirrufo

Fringilla erythrophthalma


, 1758,

South Carolina, USA


Present species sometimes considered conspecific with P. maculatus, with which it hybridizes in Great Plains of USA. Races intergrade, making delimitation difficult. Geographical variation in biometrics, plumage colour and iris colour largely clinal: mean wing length decreases slightly NW–SE, and lengths of middle toe, tarsus and bill increase N–SE; individuals N of a line connecting C Alabama, N Georgia, NW South Carolina and SE North Carolina are red-eyed, whereas those S of it have white or pale straw-coloured eyes (a narrow cline in eye colour from S Alabama NE to SE North Carolina, with populations in Georgia and S South Carolina variable). Races rileyi and canaster thought to be only doubtfully diagnosable#R. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. e. erythrophthalmus (Linnaeus, 1758) – Red-eyed Towhee – S Canada (S Manitoba, S Ontario and S Quebec) and E USA (N Minnesota E to N Vermont, C New Hampshire and SW Maine, S to NE Oklahoma, N Arkansas, S Tennessee, NE Georgia, NW South Carolina, C North Carolina and Virginia); non-breeding mainly from E Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, extreme S Ontario, S New York and Massachusetts S to Oklahoma, CS & SE Texas, Gulf Coast and SC Florida.
  • P. e. canaster A. H. Howell, 1913 – NE Louisiana, NW Mississippi, SW Tennessee, N Alabama, N Georgia, C South Carolina and W North Carolina S to Gulf Coast (CS Louisiana E to NW Florida), EC Alabama, SE Georgia and coastal South Carolina.
  • P. e. rileyi Koelz, 1939 – SE Virginia, coastal North Carolina and coastal South Carolina S to SE Alabama, SE Georgia and N Florida; non-breeding also W & C Florida.
  • P. e. alleni Coues, 1871 – White-eyed Towhee – Florida.
  • Descriptive notes

    17·3–20·6 cm; 32·1–52·3 g. Large, long-tailed sparrow, adult with un­streaked underparts, rufous flanks, and white at base of... read more


    Song a distinctive loud, ringing “drink your teeeee”, or “drink teeeee”,... read more


    Dense deciduous or mixed thickets, often second-growth thickets, young jack pines (Pinus... read more

    Food and feeding

    During breeding season feeds primarily on insects and other small animal items, probably augmented with seeds and berries when available.... read more


    Season early Apr to late May, and again to early Aug; double-brooded. Monogamous. Territorial. Nest built by female, is a bulky cup... read more


    N populations migratory, far S ones resident, others partially migratory. Spring migration late Apr... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common to locally common. Probably influenced by human activities even in pre-colonial times. Following clearance of forests, early... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. & Bonan, A. (2020). Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 23 February 2020).