White-throated Towhee, Melozone albicollis

Original descriptionPipilo albicollis Sclater 1858

eBird range map

Taxonomic history at Avibase

Taxonomic history in AOU/AOS Check-list 

AOU 6 (1983): White-throated Towhee, Pipilo albicollis

AOU 7 (1998): White-throated Towhee, Pipilo albicollis

IUCN Conservation StatusOf least concern

Behavior:Sociability in the White-throated Towhee’s closest relatives is essentially restricted to a durable pair bond and parental care of the young. This species, though, is decidedly gregarious, often encountered in noisy flocks of ten birds or more; their terrestrial habit, long tails, and continual harsh rattling may bring to mind Spotted Wrens.

Pairs, flocks, and family groups move through brush and low-stature pine forests on dry slopes, generally staying close to or on the ground, where they scratch and pick for seeds or small insects. Like other towhees, this species often crosses open patches by running or flying low between areas of deeper cover.

Voice: The vocabulary of this noisy and gregarious species closely resembles that of the other brown towhees. The chirp note is squeaky like that of the Canyon Towhee, but often more extended and higher-pitched, with a less breathy tone; there is also a high-pitched hissing see. Individuals in flocks frequently give a loud, raucous chatter, often running into a fast, almost wren-like trill. 

Perhaps as a result of this species’ more sociable nature, its “reunion duet” appears to be less stereotyped than in other brown towhees and less distinct from the rest of its vocal repertoire. The paired rattles are fast, high-pitched, and thin, without, or at least not invariably with, the concluding descent in pitch characteristic of the corresponding vocalizations of related species.

The White-throated Towhee’s song resembles that of its congeners in pattern. The introductory one to four notes can resemble the usual chirping calls, or they can be clearer, sharper downslurred whistles. In either case, the introduction is followed by two or more loud trills on different pitches, in some individuals recalling the song of an outsized House Wren. 

Detailed description and measurements drawn from standard reference works

Adult: Tail feathers sooty brown. Upper tail coverts, rump, back, and nape dull cold gray-brown; faint white tips on rump feathers. Primaries and secondaries sooty with narrow paler edges in fresh plumage. Tertials darker sooty, with pale brown edges and tips. Greater and median coverts of wing with small white tips, larger on median coverts and sometimes reduced or absent on greater coverts; tips may be entirely abraded in worn plumage. Marginal coverts of underwing white, creating white wing flash.

Undertail coverts, vent, and lower belly yellowish buff. Center of upper belly and breast white; flanks and sides of breast brownish gray, buffier on rear flanks. Throat and chin white, the throat crossed by a variably well-defined band of yellowish buff or orange. Throat separated from broad, dusky-flecked white jaw stripe by thin dusky lateral throat stripe; orange of throat band may cross jaw stripe to reach side of neck. Crown slightly darker brown-gray than nape. Ear coverts grayish brown, very faintly bordered above by slight dark line behind eye. Lore and short supercilium dull whitish with dusky flecks. Narrow whitish eye ring, usually most pronounced below eye. 

Tarsi and toes grayish pink. Bill dull pink below, grayish pink above.

Juvenile: Brownish underparts with heavy uneven spotting, densest on the lower breast; throat mostly white. Back feathers with faint transverse marks creating inconspicuous barred pattern. Greater and median wing coverts Crown unstreaked.

Length 189-196 mm (7.4-7.7 inches)

Wing chord 80-93 mm (3.1-3.7 inches)

Tail 88-101 mm (3.5-4.0 inches)

W:T 0.92