Original description: Pipilo maculatus consobrinus Ridgway 1876e
Taxonomic history in AOU/AOS Check-list
AOU 1 (1886): Guadalupe Towhee, Pipilo consobrinus
AOU 2 (1895): Guadalupe Towhee, Pipilo consobrinus
AOU 3 (1910): Guadalupe Towhee, Pipilo consobrinus
AOU 4 (1931): Guadalupe Towhee, Pipilo consobrinus
AOU 5 (1957): Rufous-sided Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus consobrinus
IUCN Conservation Status: Extinct
Over a ten-day visit to Guadalupe in the early summer of 1897, members of the US Commission of Fur Seal Investigations encountered a single Guadalupe Towhee, which they collected. It seems unlikely that that bird was the final survivor of its subspecies, but it was the last ever seen by scientists. Even by island standards, Guadalupe suffered dramatically as a result of the introduction of goats and house cats, and by the middle of the twentieth century, observers were no longer as much surprised by the towhees’ extinction as by the fact that the bird had ever been able to exist on a piece of land now so thoroughly devoid of “shrubs or understory of any kind.” Whether the last towhee fell to habitat loss or the claws of a feral cat will never be known, but it is certain that the Guadalupe Towhee has been extinct for a century or more.
Behavior: Palmer found this “not abundant” bird around “brushwood, fallen logs, fences, etc., rather than trees,” where they fed on both insects and seeds. Like other large sparrows, he noted, “Their method of scratching among fallen leaves is curious: they make a jump forward, at the same instant strike back with both feet.”
Detailed description and measurements drawn from standard reference works
Adult: Tail feathers dull brownish black (female) or dull dark sooty black (male), the two or three outermost pairs with terminal white spots and the outermost with white edge. Upper tail coverts, rump, back, neck, and head dull brownish black (female) or dull dark sooty black (male). Primaries and secondaries blackish, the primaries with faint white edges; blackish tertials with faint white edges. Greater and median coverts with white tips, forming two well-defined wing bars. Outer webs of scapulars white with narrow black edges. Under tail coverts and vent ochre, center of belly and lowermost breast white. Flanks and sides of belly and lowermost breast deep rufous.
Length 161-190 mm (6.3-7.5 inches)
Wing chord 70-81 mm (2.8-3.2 inches)
Tail 73-87 mm (2.9-3.4 inches)