Male Spotted Towhee

Because of their striking colors and skulking habits this is one of about a half-dozen of my most sought-after species.


1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this handsome male two days ago on Antelope Island. I only had a few seconds with him, he wasn’t particularly close and the setting is busy but I’ve only photographed this species a handful of times in the last 10 years so I was happy to get the shots I did. There was a bit of a breeze that ruffled his feathers and he gave me a perky pose.



1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I love the combination of their black, white and rufous plumage with those spotted wings and red eyes. Bird photographers appreciate colorful eyes in birds with black heads in particular because it makes the eyes stand out better against those photon-sucking blacks, even when we don’t get a catch light.

Many of my readers on the other side of the country will be more familiar with the Eastern Towhee that has similar coloration but lacks the spotted wings. The two species actually interbreed along several east-west river valleys where their ranges converge.

I’ve never even seen an Eastern Towhee, much less photographed one.




37 comments to Male Spotted Towhee

  • Pam Skaar

    Thanks, Johanna.

    Nice presentation. I don’t remember their alarm calls from when I lived in Arizona from 1971 – 1972 but birding by ear was not stressed by ASU in my ornithology course.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I like the way this bird gels its “hair” straight up…something I did myself recently for a dinner party for the 97 year old woman who does my hair…also wore a sign giving her credit…got punched in the arm, several times, for my efforts….

  • Jean Haley

    Oh, he is gorgeous. I don’t believe I have seen this Towhee. We have the California Towhee. Thanks Ron!

  • Patty Chadwick

    We have towhees here that are somewhat similar, but not quite as elegant as yours. I haven’t seen one in a long time,. I enjoyed their color combination of white, sienna and black and the way they “raked” the soil with both feet scratching back at the same time, then hopping forward and repeating the motion…ground feeders, they often hunted for spilled seed under our feeders…haven’t seen one in years….

  • April Olson

    Beautiful photo, I was going to say it looked like you ruffled his feathers in the first shot. I just came home from work and I had both a Spotted Towhee and a Green Tailed Towhee in the bushes by my back door. Must be fall!

  • Thank you for yet another charmer that I will never see for myself.
    Anything that beautiful HAS to skulk – or they would never get anything done. The pesky paparazzi have a lot to answer for…

  • Marty K

    I especially love that he turned around so you could get his “best side.” 🙂 What a delightful bird — definitely brings a smile to my face today!

  • Alice Beckcom

    I just love the ‘hairdo’ on this Towhee!! There must be a name for it but I don’t remember what it is!

    The colors in this Towhee are stunning. I like your comment about the catch eye when the bird’s head is black…you caught it just fine.

    Thanks for gracing us with photos, Ron.

  • Linda Covey

    Today was most insterestsing to me. Ron, love your stills. Johanna, enjoyed your video! Recently we visited Forest Falls in CA and I was able to shoot stills of the spotted Towhee. Love their colors and design.

  • Laura Culley

    Oh what a beauty!! Thanks for beginning my morning with joyous gorgeousness again! I so look forward to your posts every morning.

  • Susan Stone

    I have spent a lot of time watching Eastern Towhees, when I was living in the east – we had 3 acres of woods, and they seemed to like the edge where they were easily visible. I’ve seen a few Spotted Towhees out at the park, but never well enough to take even a good snapshot of them. I really like the energy the bird is giving off in the second shot – it looks like he’s ready to go after something.

    • “it looks like he’s ready to go after something”

      Susan, because he always seemed to have his head feathers erect and in an alert pose I wondered if something close by had excited him for reason. If that’s the case I never saw what it was though.

  • Dick Harlow

    Wonderful images Ron, and yes I know how difficult it is to get an image. The Eastern Towhee is just as skulking as your Spotted Towhee. Seen many, but not a picture have I been able to get! They always seem to know when I don’t have my camera, just my bins, then they’ll come out scratch the leaves, or call or sing! Beautiful, but non-corporative for the camera from my point of view.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful shots Ron!


  • What a handsome bird. I love the song of the Towhee. Glad you got to photograph him.

  • Art

    Great photo of one of my faves!

    We also have more Towhees than normal this autumn at 7k’ in the Wasatch although they and many others booked to the south during the storm last weekend.

    What are your other half dozen sought after species, Ron?

    • Art, first I’ll define what I mean by “most sought after”. For me it means species found in my area that I have an intense desire to photograph well but usually fail in my attempts (for a variety of reasons including the uncooperative behavior of the bird).

      That list would include, in no particular order: Golden Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Spotted Towhee, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee and any of the tiny owls. There may be a few more…

      • Pam Skaar

        I think you have wonderful photos of the belted kingfisher! Your green-tailed towhee photos aren’t shabby, either.

  • Sarah Hamilton

    Never saw one before. So cute. Love to watch bathing birds. Thanks Ron and Johanna.

  • Judy Gusick

    Good shots, Ron. They are pretty, skulking birds that are “busy”, make a lot of racket at times rooting around, fun to watch, and hard to photograph! We’ve had a bumper crop of them this year. It’s been interesting as with a feeder under cover in the dog kennel some have figured out how to use it which I hadn’t seen before. Must be something to do with having cover over head.

    • Good news, Judy. These days a “bumper crop” of most any species is good to hear about but I’m particularly happy to hear about your towhees. Some of yours may be coming my way…

  • These are very fine photos of the Spotted Towhee in natural habitat. Wonderful. I like the windswept background foliage too. We have them in the backyard year round here in Los Altos Hills, California, and I’m always happy to see them at the bath, which is artificial, but they love a good bath. Even though in a garden setting, our Spotted Towhees are real skulkers too and I agree they are not easy at all to photograph. If you are at all interested, you can hear their alarm calls in my video, and towards the end, you can see one enjoying a bath, which they seem to do several times in a single day. Of course, just remove the link if you feel it is unsuitable on your blog. I thoroughly enjoy your blog and appreciate your tips on what seems to make certain images really good and interesting, in terms of content and composition.