Collared Towhee, Pipilo ocai

Original descriptionBuarremon ocai Lawrence 1867

eBird range map

Taxonomic history at Avibase

Taxonomic history in AOU/AOS Check-list 

AOU 6 (1983): Collared Towhee, Pipilo ocai

AOU 7 (1998): Collared Towhee, Pipilo ocai

IUCN Conservation StatusOf least concern

This species appears to be locally fairly common across its range. Its original natural habitat of high-elevation pine forests is threatened in some localities by logging and agricultural conversion, but where “bushy fence rows” are allowed to succeed clearing, they in fact provide towhee habitat superior to uncut forest with little or no brush. 

Behavior: Collared Towhees resemble their Spotted and Eastern relatives in their secretive, ground-loving behavior. Keeping close to cover in the brushy thickets, fencerows, and coniferous forests they prefer, Collared Towhees are often first detected by their scratching and jumping through the leaf litter in search of seeds and insects and other invertebrates.

Most foraging takes place on or very near the ground, though males may seek perches—often concealed—as high as twenty feet to sing. This species is usually seen singly or in pairs, often in close proximity to Spotted Towhees.

Flight is fluttering and usually brief, as the short wing and long tail would suggest.

Voice: The calls of the Collared Towhee have been described as very similar to those of adjacent populations of Spotted Towhees; Sibley described the Collared Towhee’s typical calls as shorter and sharper than the zhree or jor-ee of the Spotted. Calls recorded in Jalisco include a low, grumbling chatter; a very thin, slightly grating dzeer; and a thin descending whistle. That last call is likely a variant of what Howell and Webb note as a distinctive “high, clear, usually ascending whistle, pseeeeeu or teeeeeu.”

Male Collared Towhees utter a wide variety of songs, all similar in tone and pattern to those of Spotted Towhees. One simple variant begins with a descending whistled call-like note, followed by a higher-pitched, rather musical trill; in a more assertive version, the introductory note is loud, brassy, and ascending, recalling the chewink of an Eastern Towhee. Longer, more complex songs are also frequently given, in which the trill is preceded or, less often, followed by several chips at different pitches and of different tones; a given song type may be repeated for several minutes before the singer switches to another. 

Detailed description and measurements drawn from standard reference works

Adult Pipilo ocai ocai: Tail feathers dull olive green. Upper tail coverts, rump, back, and nape olive green. Primaries and secondaries olive green, tertials tinged grayer. Greater and median coverts olive green on outer web, tinged grayer on inner. Marginal coverts canary yellow, creating sometimes visible wing flash. Under tail coverts brownish buff. Center of belly pale gray; flanks buffy olive, passing gradually into grayish sides of breast. Broad, neatly defined black band across white upper breast. 

Throat and jaw stripe bright white. Crown rufous with fine black edge; forehead black with narrow white stripe from bill base to front of crown. Ear coverts and lore solid black, sharply set off from green nape and separated from crown and forehead by long, narrow white supercilium, which extends from base of bill to nape. 

Bill black. Tarsi and very long toes dull pinkish.

Juvenile Pipilo ocai ocai: Tail feathers dull olive brown. Upper tail coverts and rump olive brown. Back and nape olive brown with irregular sparse blackish streaks. Primaries, secondaries, and tertials olive brown. Greater coverts narrowly tipped with buff or rust. Under tail coverts and vent dull yellowish buff. Center of belly dull grayish brown; flanks and sides of breast grayish buff with dusky streaking. Breast pale yellowish buff, crossed by a broad band of coarse black streaking. 

Throat and jaw stripe pale yellowish buff. Crown brown with narrow black streaks, forehead dusky with variable whitish or buff stripe. Ear coverts and lores blackish brown, set off from olive brown nape by long, variably indistinct buff or whitish, dusky-streaked and -smudged supercilium, which extends from base of bill to nape. 

Bill blackish. Tarsi and very long toes dull pinkish.

Length 181-217 mm (7.1-8.5 inches)

Wing chord 82-92 mm (3.2-3.6 inches)

Tail 89-106 mm (3.5-4.2 inches)

W:T 0.85

Mass 56-58 grams