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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Green-tailed Towhee - Pipilo chlorurus

Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S3B
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status
USFWS: MBTA
USFS:
BLM:
FWP SWAP: SGCN3
PIF: 3


 

External Links






Listen to an Audio Sample
Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Populations in Montana and across the Northern Rockies have undergone recent declines.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 01/04/2012
    View State Conservation Rank Criteria
    Population Size

    ScoreU - Unknown

    CommentUnknown.

    Range Extent

    ScoreG - 200,000-2,500,000 km squared (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)

    Comment213,835 square kilometers based on Natural Heritage Program range maps that appear on the Montana Field Guide.

    Area of Occupancy

    ScoreU - Unknown

    CommentUnknown.

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)

    CommentSagebrush covertypes have declined since European arrival, but shrubby habitats have probably increased in forested areas as a result of timber harvest. Overall longterm trend may best be categorized as stable to within +/-25%.

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreD - Declining. Decline of 10-30% in population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences

    CommentBreeding Bird Survey (BBS) data is of moderate credibility with a significant negative trend of -3.7% per year or -32% per decade. BBS data for the Northern Rocky Mountains is of highest credibility and shows a nonsignificant trend of -1.1% per year or 11% decline per decade. We interprete these data as indicating a decline of between 10-30% over the short-term.

    Threats

    ScoreF - Widespread, low-severity threat. Threat is of low severity but affects (or would affect) most or a significant portion of the population or area.

    CommentHabitat loss from sagebrush removal and fire suppression in conifer forests that reduces shrub regrowth both represent potential threats to the species.

    SeverityLow - Low but nontrivial reduction of species population or reversible degradation or reduction of habitat in area affected, with recovery expected in 10-50 years.

    CommentAlthough sagebrush covertypes take a long time to recover, other shrub species tend to respond relatively quickly to disturbance and the species should be able to respond quickly to this shrub regeneration.

    ScopeModerate - 20-60% of total population or area affected

    Comment20-60% of the population is likely being impacted by habitat loss or alteration or fire suppression

    ImmediacyModerate - Threat is likely to be operational within 2-5 years.

    CommentOngoing

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    CommentNot Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has a high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance. Species has good dispersal capabilities such that extirpated populations generally become reestablished through natural recolonization.

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreC - Moderate. Generalist. Broad-scale or diverse (general) habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors are used or required by the species but some key requirements are scarce in the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentModerate Generalist. Species uses a variety of shrubby habitats in shrub steppe or disturbed and regenerating forest areas.

    Raw Conservation Status Score

    Score 3.5 + 0.0 (geographic distribution) + 0.0 (environmental specificity) - 0.25 (short-term trend) + 0.0 (threats) = 3.25

 
General Description
The Green-tailed Towhee is a large, secretive sparrow of shrub-steppe habitats, spending much of its time scratching the ground to move leaf litter in search of food. Its catlike "mew" calls and vigorous foraging method often reveal its presence. Males sing a song of jumbled notes and trills (Dobbs et al. 2012).

For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.

Phenology
Singing males observed in suitable habitat in May. Several records of nestlings and/or fledglings in June and July. Nests with eggs observed as late as July 4, and a late observation of an adult feeding recently fledged young recorded in early September. Observations in December-February suggest this species occasionally overwinters in portions of Montana (Montana Natural Heritage Program Point Observation Database 2014).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Sexes similar in appearance, but some females show slightly duller plumage than males, especially on crown. Upperparts are olive green with gray breast, long greenish tail, and conspicuous reddish brown cap. White spot above the cheek, a white mustache, and white chin, throat, and belly contrast with gray on head and breast. Juvenile lacks contrasts, mainly brownish gray above and white below (Dobbs et al. 2012).

Species Range
Montana Range

All Ranges
Summer
Migratory
(Click legend blocks to view individual ranges)

Western Hemisphere Range

 


Range Comments
In Montana, the Green-tailed Towhee occurs in shrubby habitats across most of central and southern Montana.

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 1192

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

Breeding
(direct evidence "B")


Breeding
(indirect evidence "b")


No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")


Overwintering
(regular observations "W")


Overwintering
(at least one obs. "w")



 

(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)



Migration
In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are May 24 to June 5 and August 25 to September 10.

Habitat
Habitat selected for breeding varies with elevation, prefers species-rich shrub communities. Typically occurs along the ecotone, or edge, of sagebrush communities and other mixed-species shrub communities such as Chokecherry, snowberry, serviceberry, and mountain mahogany (Dobbs et al. 2012).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
The Green-tailed Towhee feeds primarily on the ground or low in dense, shrubby vegetation. Searches for food by scratching or hop-kicking back and forth to move surface leaf litter and expose lower layers of leaf litter or bare ground. Eats primarily seeds, small insects and some fruit (Dobbs et al. 2012).

Ecology
Apparently only an occasional host for the Brown-headed Cowbird (Dobbs et al. 2012).

Reproductive Characteristics
Locates its bulky nest in patches of dense, healthy shrubs, which provide heavy concealment. Eggs are pale, tinted sky blue turquoise, with reddish brown speckling. Clutch size typically 3 to 4 (Dobbs et al. 2012). Nests with eggs have been found from May 27 to July 4 (Montana Natural Heritage Program Point Observation Database 2014). Only females incubate eggs; incubation period lasts from 11-13 days. Females brood nestlings, but both parents feed nestlings. Nestlings leave the nest 11-14 days after hatching; parents feed fledglings for at least two weeks after fledging (Dobbs et al. 2012).

Management
Maintaining diverse, vigorous shrubland communities is essential to support breeding populations of Green-tailed Towhee. The interacting effects of livestock grazing, non-native species, particularly Cheatgrass, and fire management influence habitats for this species (Dobbs 2006).

Threats or Limiting Factors
Loss of diverse and healthy shrub communities may in occur in areas overgrazed by livestock, invaded by non-native plant species, or converted to agricultural lands (Dobbs 2006).

References
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Citation for data on this website:
Green-tailed Towhee — Pipilo chlorurus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from