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California Towhee Pipilo crissalis


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California Towhee
credit: Alan Vernon/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Emberizidae, New World Sparrows view all from this family

Description ADULT Brown overall, marginally darker above than below. Throat is yellow-buff and lightly streaked, its lower margin defined by "necklace" of streaklike dark spots. Undertail coverts are warm pinkish orange. Bill is dark gray. JUVENILE Similar to adult, but with subtle streaking on breast as well as throat, and faint buffy wing bars.

Dimensions Length: 8-10" (20-25 cm)

Endangered Status The Inyo California Towhee, a subspecies of the California Towhee, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in California. The population of this subspecies is very small, consisting of perhaps just 200 individuals. Habitat destruction -- caused by water diversion practices, development, agriculture, and recreational activities -- has been the biggest threat to its survival. It lives isolated from other California Towhee subspecies, in riverside habitats in the Argus Mountains of Inyo County. Because its numbers are so small, it is vulnerable to any impact on its ecosystem. The trampling of vegetation by burros, for example, has destroyed plants necessary to the towhee's survival and left room for unfavorable plants to move in.

Habitat Common resident of scrub and chaparral woodland with dense cover on ground. Has adapted to human presence within its range, and now also commonly found in parks and rural gardens that offer suitable cover. Some individuals undertake altitudinal movements (hardly migration), moving uphill in late summer, but to lower elevations in harsh winter weather.

Observation Tips Easiest to see in parks and gardens.

Range Northwest, California

Voice Song is an accelerating series of squeaky notes; call is a thin peenk note.

Discussion Plump-bodied, long-tailed and perky bird with plain, rather nondescript plumage. Generally unobtrusive, but sometimes bold in gardens and parks. Sexes are similar.