CANYON TOWHEEPipilo fuscus

Canyon Towhee, although originally described as a separate species, was later lumped with California Towhee (P. crissalis) as the “Brown Towhee.” These two species were finally separated during the atlas field work period (Johnson and Haight 1996). More recent genetic work strongly suggests Canyon Towhee is actually two species, a Chihuahuan Desert population in Texas, New Mexico and eastern Mexico and a Sonoran Desert race in Arizona and northwest Mexico, roughly separated by the continental divide (Zink et al. 2001).

DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work seasons of the TBBA project, atlasers found 83 confirmed breeding sites for Canyon Towhee, 135 probable and 84 possible sites. The highest concentrations of breeding sites were found in the Trans-Pecos and Edwards Plateau regions with additional breeding sites on the High and Rolling Plains (see the region map in Lockwood and Freeman [2004]). The TBBA map is similar to the map produced from Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data (Sauer et al. 2005) and is generally similar to the map in Oberholser (1974).

The breeding range of this non-migratory species continues north from the Texas Panhandle to Cimmaron County in the west end of Oklahoma (Patti 2004) and reaches its northeastern corner in the pinyon-juniper country of southeast Colorado (Dillon 1998) Further west and south Canyon Towhees breed primarily in New Mexico, Arizona and most of north and central Mexico (Howell and Webb 1995, Sauer et al. 2005).

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Canyon Towhee is a permanent resident throughout its range in the United States and Mexico. The breeding season in Texas extends from early March to late September (occasionally later), based on egg dates from March 30 to June 13 and TBBA dates from April 6 to August 27 and fledglings being fed by adults November 6 (Wauer 1973, Oberholser 1974, Howell and Webb 1995, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

BREEDING HABITAT. Canyon Towhees in Texas breed from about 300 to 2000 m (950-6800 ft) in rough, rocky, semiarid country (Oberholser 1974). In Oklahoma this species prefers pinyon-oak-juniper and grasslands with scattered thorny shrubs, small trees or cacti (Patti 2004). In Colorado about half of graphed breeding observations came from pinyon- juniper woodland, with short grass prairie, deciduous woodlands and assorted shrubland supplying about 1/6 each (Dillon 1998). In Arizona , in contrast, only about 5% of breeding evidence was found in pinyon-juniper wood- lands with 44% in Sonoran desert associations and the remaining breeding sites in a variety of habitats (Corman 2005).

The nest is placed in a bush or small tree or cactus, generally against the main trunk, supported by a sturdy branch and 0.6-2.4 m (2-8 ft) above the ground. It is a rather large, bulky, loosely constructed cup of grass, twigs, forbs and bark strips. The nest is lined with rootlets, fine grass and hair. The usual clutch size is 3 (range 3-6) pale blue or greenish blue or grayish eggs, which are variously marked with black, purple or brown. Two to 3 broods are not unusual during the long nesting season (Oberholser 1974.Harrison 1979, Johnson and Haight 1996).

STATUS. Canyon Towhees are common to uncommon in their range in western Texas (Lockwood and Freeman 2004). BBS observers in the Trans-Pecos and Edwards Plateau detected averages of 1-3 towhees per route per year. These data suggested an annual population change of -1.7% for the period 1980-2005, similar to the statistically significant national trend of -1.9% (Sauer et al. 2005). The relatively small annual change for this species with its relatively common status is encouraging for its future in Texas.  Text by Robert C. Tweit (2007)

BRTOLiterature cited.

Corman, T. E. 2005. Canyon Towhee (Pipilo fuscus). In Arizona breeding bird atlas. pp. 498-499 (T. E. Corman and C. Wise-Gervais, eds.). University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Dillon, M. B. 1998. Canyon Towhee (Pipilo fuscus). In Colorado breeding bird atlas, pp. 448-449 (H. E. Kingery, ed.). Colorado Bird Atlas Partnership, Denver.

Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.

Johnson, R. R. and L. T. Haight. 1996. Canyon Towhee (Pipilo fuscus). In The birds of North America, No. 264 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Patti, S. T. 2004. Canyon Towhee (Pipilo fuscus). In Oklahoma breeding bird atlas, pp.  392-393 (D. L. Reinking, ed.). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2005. Version 6.2 2006. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD <>

Wauer, R. H. 1973. Birds of Big Bend National Park and vicinity. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Zink, R.. M., A. E. Kessen, T. V. Line, and R. C. Blackwell-Rago. 2001. Comparative phylogeographic patterns of some arid land bird species. Condor 103: 1-10.

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