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Eastern Towhee, Viera Jakubek
Photo © Viera Jakubek

Photo: Viera Jakubek
Breeding evidence - Eastern Towhee
Breeding evidence
Relative abundance - Eastern Towhee
Relative abundance
Probability of observation - Eastern Towhee
Probability of observation

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Eastern Towhee
Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Conserv. status:
SRANK: Widespread Breeder (S4B)
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
5 30 165 179
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Manitoba1970 - 2015 -2.22 (-4.76 - 0.146)Medium
Canada1970 - 2015 -1.6 (-2.73 - -0.605)High

Mean abundance (number of birds detected per 5 min. point count) and percentage of squares occupied by region

Bird Conservation Regions [abund. plot] [%squares plot]
Arctic Plains and MountainsBoreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Softwood Shield
0.00% 0.063% 0.00%
Boreal Taiga PlainsPrairie PotholesTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains
0.098% 0.1117% 0.00%

Characteristics and Range Towhees are large, long-tailed sparrows with a lively two-footed ground-scratching action when foraging. The male Eastern Towhee has a striking combination of black head, breast, and upperparts (uniform brown in the female), rusty flanks and white belly, with white highlights in the wings and tail. His song, popularly rendered as drink-your-teeeeeea, is equally distinctive. Recently split from its western counterpart the Spotted Towhee, the Eastern Towhee breeds from southeastern Saskatchewan to southern Québec, and south throughout the eastern U.S.A. to the Gulf States from extreme eastern Texas to peninsular Florida. Its winter range corresponds mainly to the southern half of the breeding range but extends westward well into Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska (Greenlaw 2015).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Atlas records were almost exclusively in the Prairie Potholes and Boreal Taiga Plains, mostly within the estimated range in The Birds of Manitoba, but extending northward locally to the Porcupine Hills, Winnipegosis, and Lake St. Martin. Evidently, populations in the Turtle Mountains (North Dakota) and the Qu?Appelle Valley (Saskatchewan) are less isolated than suggested by Greenlaw (2015). A single observation south of Bissett likely represents a lone vagrant male, and the abundance map exaggerates occurrence east of Lake Winnipeg (pers. obs.). Otherwise the three maps show an intriguingly patchy distribution, with greatest abundance in the western half of the southern Interlake, the Assiniboine River valley, the periphery of the Manitoba Escarpment, and a small zone east of the Red River valley. This patchiness reflects the localized distribution of the favoured, scrubby deciduous woodland habitat (typically a mix of trembling aspen and bur oak), and avoidance of both intensive agriculture and dense forest. The preferred habitat is often associated with sandy post-glacial features (including the vicinity of quarries), wooded valley slopes, and (especially in the Interlake) slightly elevated areas above mostly wet, flat terrain. Elsewhere in its range, the Eastern Towhee occurs at high density in pine woods (Greenlaw 2015), it occurs sparingly in disturbed, sandy jack-pine habitat in Manitoba. As elsewhere in northern parts of the range (Greenlaw 2015), Manitoba nests are usually concealed on the ground. The rate of Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism appears to be high; five of eight recorded Manitoba nests with towhee eggs also contained a total of 14 cowbird eggs (Prairie Nest Record Scheme).

Trends, Conservation, and Recommendations Widespread population declines, most dramatic in the northeastern U.S.A. (Greenlaw 2015), have not yet caused special concern for Eastern Towhee conservation, but continued monitoring is clearly important. Land clearing, reforestation, and suburbanization (the species formerly nested in Winnipeg) have mixed effects on towhee numbers (Greenlaw 2015). Greenlaw recommends that management should seek to include an array of woody plant communities in the middle stages of secondary succession (post-fire succession is probably key to the Interlake population). While Eastern Towhees in Manitoba are peripheral to the main population, the atlas helps to pinpoint areas where the species should be included in habitat management planning, including several provincial parks and wildlife management areas.

Peter Taylor

Recommended citation: Taylor, P. 2018. Eastern Towhee in Artuso, C., A. R. Couturier, K. D. De Smet, R. F. Koes, D. Lepage, J. McCracken, R. D. Mooi, and P. Taylor (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Manitoba, 2010-2014. Bird Studies Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba [15 Jul 2024]

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