A distinctive bird that is frequently heard before it is seen, scratching about in the brush, is the spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus). With a thick, pointed bill, short neck, chunky body, and long, rounded tail, it is a big New World sparrow. In recent decades, the taxonomy of towhees has been disputed, and this bird and the eastern towhee were considered a single genus, the rufous-sided towhee, until 1995. The deep chestnut flanks and sides are distinctive, contrasted with the solid black head, red-eye, and black upper parts of the male. The stomach is white, and the white spots on the wings give the name of this species. In-flight, white is evident at the corners of the long tail. Similar to males, females appear but are dark brown while males are black. Heavily streaked juvenile towhees. Towhees are more heavily spotted in eastern Washington than their western counterparts, with larger spots and whiter tails on their tails. Distinguished from the east by white spotting on the rear, white wing bars, absence of a primary base patch, and call. Hybrids occur in the Great Plains and to the south in winter; they sometimes incorporate the features of both parents. Between 17 cm (6.7 in) and 21 cm (8.3 in) long, the spotted towhee weighs between 33 g (1.2 oz) and 49 g (1.7 oz). Under thick tangles of shrubs, spotted towhees jump over the ground, searching for food in leaf litter. To search for insects and fruits, they also climb into lower branches, or to deliver their fast, buzzy song. Towhees can fly long distances, but make quick, slow flights between cover patches more frequently.
The spotted towhee lives in north-western North America in dry upland forests and breeds. It is accessible throughout the year in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and southern British Columbia. The Spotted Towhee uses a two-footed scratching form, primarily a ground-forager, kicking both feet backward at the same time to find food under the litter. This activity is also very noisy, and one of the best ways of finding them is when the birds are in thick cover, the sound of them foraging. They are also located along the boundary of upland forests in marginal wetland forests and riparian forests. Since the range of spotted towhees overlaps with areas of the United States that experience frequent forest fires (Arizona, New Mexico, California), they tend to be found in unburned chaparral and avoid chaparral and forests that have been burned due to lack of soil cover and insufficient capacity for foraging. Such birds often forage in trees occasionally, an activity that is most common in spring. Spotted Towhees often sun themselves, lying down with feathers spread on the grass. They have many distinctive calls and songs and respond to ‘pishing’ readily. These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation, with the habit of rummaging noisily through dry leaves in search of food. They primarily consume insects, ground-dwelling beetles, spiders, and other arthropods during the breeding season (spring and summer) that live in the leaf litter that is foraged by the spotted towhee. In the breeding season, they consume only protein-rich foods, and they concentrate on foraging for acorns, nuts, oats, and berries in the fall and winter. When present in their forest environment, they can visit bird feeders. The female constructs and lines the nest of bark, grass, and leaves with pine needles, fur, and other fine material. For 12 to 14 days, she lays 3 to 5 eggs and incubates them. Both parents feed their youngsters. After 9 to 11 days, they leave the nest but do not fly for another six days. The parents continue to feed the young, who, after leaving the nest, remain in the territory of the parents for about 30 days. Usually, each pair raises only one brood per season. In less developed areas, their main predators are ground dwelling snakes because nests are built on the ground.