Bird Database

Eastern Towhee

(Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance


Strongly Decreasing


Habitat loss and fragmentation, Habitat maturation

Conservation Actions

Manage early sucessional habitat

Eastern Towhee

(Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

The boldly marked Eastern Towhee (called the Rufous-sided Towhee before being split into eastern and western species) is New Hampshire’s largest member of the sparrow family. Males are conspicuous as they perch high on a shrub or small tree and belt out their “drink your teeeeeeeeee” song, sometimes well into the middle of the day. When not singing, towhees spend their time on or near the ground in dense thickets, where you’re most likely to hear their “che-wink” call (also rendered as “tow-wee”) instead of seeing them. They are also noisy foragers, kicking backwards with both feet to search for insects underneath dead leaves.

Towhees are a species of early successional habitats, and like other such species their populations are in steep decline across most of the range. They probably reached their peak abundance in the late 1800s or early 1900s when abandoned farmland was being replaced with shrubs. Some of those shrublands continued to mature into forest while others, especially in southern New Hampshire, were converted developed for commercial or residential purposes. Today most of the state’s towhees are in powerline cuts and pine barrens. A few are also found regularly on low rocky mountaintops dominated by low shrubs, such as many small peaks in the Lakes Region and southwestern New Hampshire. The good news is that these habitats are actively managed to prevent reversion to mature forests, so towhees are likely to persist – just in numbers significantly lower than 50-60 years ago.

Towhees in the northern half of their range, including New Hampshire, migrate to the southeastern United States each fall. Here they join birds that don’t migrate at all, and both populations mix together in foraging flocks. In March and April the resident birds are preparing to breed just as the migrants start to return north, thus limiting the potential for more intense resource competition. As our climate warms, more and more towhees are lingering into winter in the northern portion of their breeding range, including New Hampshire. Numbers vary depending on how harsh the weather is, but are only likely to increase.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Eastern Towhee
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count