Bird of the Year

(c) Rick Fridell

The Green-tailed Towhee

I am proud to be the official Bird of the Year for the 2023 Red Cliffs Bird Festival at Greater Zion. Some may know me by my Latin name – pipilo chlorurus (‘colorful chirper’) but that’s too showy for my taste, so you can call me THE Green-tailed Towhee. I am the smallest towhee, yet one of the larger members of the American Sparrow Family. First and foremost you should know that I am VERY intelligent – Genius some might even say! (Chirp out to Jennifer Ackerman author of The Genius of Birds).


Order: Passeriformes

Family: New World Sparrows – Passerellidae (21 species)

Genus: Pipilo

Conservation Status: Fairly common & widespread, numbers probably stable.

Keys to My Identification

Color: I am a grayish bird with olive-yellow wings, back and tail. My head is strongly marked with a bright rufous crown, white throat, and a dark “mustache” stripe. Male and female Green-tailed Towhees are sexually monochromatic which basically means we look a like. There can be some minor differences in appearance including females having slightly duller plumage and crowns.


Shape/Size: I am a small, chunky songbird (I have a lot of feathers) with a big head
(because I’m so smart), stocky body and longish tail. My bill is thick and sparrow-like
and I am larger (6 1/4”-7”) than most sparrows but smaller than an American Robin plus I have a shorter tail than most other towhees.


Behavior: I forage on the ground or in low, dense shrubs. In winter, I associate in small
groups and with wintering sparrows such as Brewer’s; Chipping; Black-throated and
White-crowned. You may even see me with my friends the Spotted-Towhee and


Habitat: Look for me in shrubby habitats of the West such as brushy mountain slopes,
low chaparral, open pinyon-juniper forests, sagebrush steppes, dessert grasslands and
mountain canyons up to 10,000 feet. In winter I join mixed flocks in dense mesquite
areas of desert washes, arroyos and mesquite thickets. I am one of just a few birds that you can see on any tour of the Red Cliffs Bird Fest.


Songs: Males sing a long, jumbled series of clear whistles and trills lasting about 2.5
seconds. A singing male at the height of the breeding season may sing up to 12 songs
per minute. Listen Here

Call: We have a distinctive ‘mewing’ call that is thin, high and rises in pitch. Both sexes
use this call to stay in contact when foraging, upon leaving the nest or while in flight.
When alarmed, I make a sharp and repeated tick note. Listen Here

(c) Darren Clark
(c) Rick Fridell
(c) Rick Fridell
Juvenile (c) Tom Lally

Life History

Food: I love to eat seeds and small insects. I forage on the ground, often using the
“double-scratch” technique common to many ground-dwelling sparrows and towhees and I like to forage under feeders. My technique involves hopping forward and quickly backward again, scratching and overturning the leaf litter with both feet at the same time. As I land, I quickly peck at any food I’ve uncovered. Food items include pigweed, dandelion, ricegrass seeds, berries and a wide assortment of insects.

Nesting: I am very secretive, and my nesting habits are not to well known. However, I like to nest on the ground or low shrubs such as sagebrush, snowberry, chokecherry, juniper, oak to name a few and usually lower than 3 ft. above the ground. My nest consists of a 4-inch wide outer cup made of bark strips, grapevine bark, twigs, dead leaves, leaf stems, and sometimes string or cardboard. Inside is an inner cup about 2 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep lined with fine dry grasses, rootlets, and sometimes animal hair and when I can find it, porcupine hair.
Clutch Size: 4-6 eggs
Number of Broods: 1-2 broods
Nesting Period: 11-14 days

Juvenile: Juveniles are brown and white streaked, with a yellowish wash on their wings. In most cases BOTH parents feed the nestlings.

Migration: Short to medium distance migrant. Green-tailed Towhees migrate mainly at night to wintering grounds in the southwestern U.S. and throughout much of Mexico. In June, breeding towhees are found in most of the Great Basin, across most of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, and in portions of Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana.

Lytle Ranch, Snow Canyon, Pine Valley; Grafton, Tonaquint Park,
Seegmiller Marsh, Zion National Park, Kolob Terrace, LaVerkin Confluence.