Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Year-round Resident

Eastern Towhees are common year-round residents in the Washington metro area. They can be seen and heard regularly at Monticello Park. They have probably nested in the park or the surrounding neighborhood.

Where to See Them in the Park

You can find Eastern Towhees in most parts of the park. They generally forage low in the underbrush, which can make them difficult to see.

Physical Description

Eastern Towhee Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Towhee Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Towhees are New World sparrows, but they are sleeker and have a longer tail than most other members of their family. The male is distinctive, with his rufous flanks, white belly, and black head, breast, and back. He has a white handkerchief on his wing, which becomes a white stripe when he flies.

Eastern Towhee Female
Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Towhee Female
Female - Photo by William Higgins

Female towhees look like males who have substituted brown for black plumage. They have rufous flanks and a white belly.

Eastern Towhee Female
Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Both the female and the male have white on the three outer feathers on each side of their tail, which can be seen more easily on flying birds.

Eastern Towhee Male
Male - Photo by Michael Pollack

Both males and females go into the stream to bathe and drink. The red eye can be prominent on some birds. On others, the eye is more reddish-brown.

Juvenile Eastern Towhee Male
Juvenile Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The plumage of juvenile birds is more mottled. The amount of black plumage for males or brown plumage for females will vary.


Eastern Towhee Singing Male
Singing Male - Photo by William Young

During breeding season, males often perch on exposed branches and sing. The call and song of the Eastern Towhee are well known. The song is a drawn out drink-your-teeeea. The tow-hee call is the basis for the bird's name. Another call is a loud, emphatic che-wink.

Hear the vocalizations of the Eastern Towhee.


Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee - Photo by William Higgins

The Eastern Towhee used to be called the Rufous-sided Towhee. In 1995, it was split from western birds now called Spotted Towhees, who look similar but have white spots on their black back. On rare occasions, Spotted Towhees are seen in the eastern United States. In areas where the ranges of the two species overlap, Eastern and Spotted Towhees sometimes interbreed.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Eastern, to distinguish them from the Spotted Towhee in the West. Towhee from their call.
Genus Name: Pipilo means chirp.
Species Name: Erythrophthalmus means red eye.

Eastern Towhee video footage

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