[tou-hee, toh-hee, toh-ee]
towhee, common name for a North American bird of the family Fringillidae (finch family). Towhees are also called chewinks, for their call, and ground robins, because like robins they are ground feeders—often detected by the rustling noise they make searching through dry underbrush for insects. In the male red-eyed towhee, found E of the Great Plains and in parts of Canada, the upper parts are glossy black and the underparts white with patches of chestnut-brown on the sides. The white-eyed towhee is found in the South, and the inconspicuous brown and Abert's towhees in the West. The green-tailed towhee is a western mountain bird. The various species of towhees all belong to the genus Pipilo. Towhees are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Fringillidae.

A Towhee is any one of a number of species of birds in the genus Pipilo within the family Emberizidae (which also includes the buntings, American sparrows, and juncos).

Towhees typically have longer tails than other emberizids. Most species tend to avoid humans, so they are not well known, though the Eastern Towhee P. erythrophthalamus is bolder as well as more colorful. This species, and some others, may be seen in urban parks and gardens.

There has been considerable debate over the taxonomy of the towhees in recent years. Two species complexes have been identified, the rufous-sided complex (involving Pipilo erythrophthalmus, P. maculatus, P. socorroensis, P. ocai and P. chlorurus), and the brown towhee complex (involving Pipilo crissalis, P. fuscus, P. aberti and P. albicollis). The distinction of species within these is uncertain and opinions have differed over the years. Modern authorities distinguish all four species in the brown towhee complex, though P. fuscus and P. crissalis were formerly treated as a single species. Hybrids are frequent between some of the species, particularly between the Mexican races of P. maculatus ("Olive-backed Towhee", P. maculatus macronyx) and P. ocai.

Species list:


  • Zink, R. M., & Dittmann, D. L. (1991). Evolution of brown towhees - mitochondrial-DNA evidence. Condor 93: 98-105.

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