Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)


French: Tohi tacheté German: Fleckengrundammer Spanish: Toquí moteado

Pipilo maculata


, 1827,

Real del Monte, Hidalgo, Mexico


Names maculatus and macronyx have equal priority for the wider species-group, thus former has been selected under First Reviser principle to accord with standard usage#R. Present species sometimes considered conspecific with P. erythrophthalmus, with which it hybridizes in Great Plains of USA; commonly hybridizes also with P. ocai in Mexico. S races macronyx, vulcanorum and oaxacae (“macronyx group”) sometimes treated together as a separate species, and P. socorroensis often treated as conspecific. Race griseipygius intergrades with montanus, and vulcanorum intergrades with nominate. Geographical variation partially clinal, amount/extent of white dorsal spots and amount of white in tail decreasing from N to S in C Rocky Mts (also E–W in plains of USA), and, conversely, dorsal spotting increasing from British Columbia S along Pacific coast to NW Baja California. S races differ in main call note; Pacific birds have slightly different song#R. Race oaxacae poorly differentiated, perhaps better merged into chiapensis. Nineteen extant subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. m. oregonus Bell, 1849 – extreme SW Canada (SW British Columbia) S in W USA to SW ­Oregon; non-breeding S to S California.
  • P. m. falcinellus Swarth, 1913 – interior & SW Oregon S to California (W & SE slopes of Sierra Nevada).
  • P. m. falcifer McGregor, 1900 – coastal N California (S to Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties).
  • P. m. megalonyx S. F. Baird, 1858 – coastal S California from Monterey and Kern Counties S, including Santa Cruz I, to extreme NW Mexico (NW Baja California S to 32° N).
  • P. m. clementae Grinnell, 1897 – Santa Rosa, Santa Catalina and San Clemente Is, off SW California.
  • P. m. umbraticola Grinnell & Swarth, 1926 – N Baja California (32° N S to 30° N).
  • P. m. consobrinus Ridgway, 1876 – Guadalupe I, off W Baja California.
  • P. m. magnirostris Brewster, 1891 – Sierra de la Laguna, S Baja California Sur, Mexico.
  • P. m. arcticus (Swainson, 1832) – SW Canada (C Alberta and C Saskatchewan) S in USA (E of Rocky Mts) to SE Wyoming, NE Colorado, C Nebraska and NW Kansas; non-breeding mainly S USA from C Arizona (rare) and SW New Mexico E to W Iowa, W Missouri and S Texas, S in Mexico to C Chihuahua and C Nuevo León.
  • P. m. curtatus Grinnell, 1911 – N Great Basin in SW Canada (interior S British Columbia) and NW USA (N Idaho S to NE California, C Nevada and SE Idaho); non-breeding S to SE California and SE Arizona.
  • P. m. montanus Swarth, 1905 – S Great Basin and Rocky Mts region from SE California E to SE Nevada, N Utah, NC Colorado, NE New Mexico and W Oklahoma, S to SC Arizona and N Mexico (NE Sonora and NW Chihuahua); non-breeding S to N Sonora, C Chihuahua and CS Texas.
  • P. m. gaigei Van Tyne & Sutton, 1937 – S USA (E & SE New Mexico and W Texas) and adjacent N Mexico (N Coahuila).
  • P. m. griseipygius van Rossem, 1934 – Sierra Madre Occidental from SW Chihuahua (29° N) S through E Sinaloa and W Durango to NE Nayarit and W Zacatecas (W Mexico).
  • P. m. orientalis Sibley, 1950 – Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico from SE Coahuila, C Nuevo León and SW Tamaulipas S to NE Guanajuato, Querétaro and N Hidalgo (E Mexico).
  • P. m. maculatus Swainson, 1827 – Spotted Towhee – highlands of SE Tlaxcala, WC Veracruz and E Puebla, in E Mexico.
  • P. m. macronyx Swainson, 1827 – Olive-backed Towhee – mountains on W & SW sides of Valley of Mexico (in E Michoacán, México, NW Morelos and Distrito Federal).
  • P. m. vulcanorum Sibley, 1950 – mountains on SE side of Valley of Mexico (in México, NE Morelos, SW Tlaxcala and W Puebla).
  • P. m. oaxacae Sibley, 1950 – highlands of N & C Oaxaca, in S Mexico.
  • P. m. chiapensis van Rossem, 1938 – mountains of C Chiapas, in SE Mexico.
  • P. m. repetens Griscom, 1930 – SE Chiapas (Volcán Tacaná) and Pacific cordillera of Guatemala.
  • Descriptive notes

    17·7–21·3 cm; 30·6–49 g. Large, long-tailed sparrow with white spots on upperwing-coverts. Male nominate race has head and chest black,... read more


    Song variable, but typically two “chip” notes followed by a trill, “chup chup... read more


    Dense deciduous or mixed thickets; high-altitude mixed forest and pine–oak–fir (... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet in breeding season primarily insects, including beetles (Coleoptera), crickets (Orthoptera), bugs (Hemiptera, including homopterans),... read more


    Season mid Apr to late Jul in most of USA, although song and territorial behaviour by early Mar in coastal California, and breeding... read more


    NE interior populations (race arcticus) migratory, and coastal, insular and Mexican... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Generally common to fairly common. Race consobrinus, confined to Guadalupe I, off Baja California, extinct. Race ... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus). 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 18 February 2020).