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Green-tailed Towhee -
Species of Concern Native Species Global Rank
State Rank Reason below)
Agency Status USFWS
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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
Score U - Unknown
CommentUnknown. Range Extent
Score G - 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
Score U - Unknown
CommentUnknown. Long-term Trend
Score E - 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
Score D - 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
Score F - 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.
Severity Low - 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.
Scope Moderate - 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
Immediacy Moderate - Threat is likely to be operational within 2-5 years.
CommentOngoing Intrinsic Vulnerability
Score C - 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
Score C - 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
3.5 + 0.0 (geographic distribution) + 0.0 (environmental specificity) - 0.25 (short-term trend) + 0.0 (threats) = 3.25
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 "
" 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.
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).
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).
Western Hemisphere Range
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:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are May 24 to June 5 and August 25 to September 10.
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:
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);
Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
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,
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:
) 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.
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.
Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Wetland and Riparian Systems
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).
Apparently only an occasional host for the Brown-headed Cowbird (Dobbs et al. 2012).
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).
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).
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds: a reference to their distribution and habitat. Denver Mus. Nat. Hist. xxxviii + 442pp. Bock, C.E., M. Raphael, and J.H. Bock. 1978. Changing avian community structure during early post-fire succession in the Sierra Nevada. Wilson Bull. 90: 119-123. Burleigh, T.D. 1972. Birds of Idaho. The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, ID. 467 pp. Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp. Chalfoun, A. 2005. Habitat use and quality for non-game shrub-steppe birds, Final performance report Dobbs, R.C., P.R. Martin, and T.E. Martin. 1998. Green-tailed Towhee ( Pipilo chlorurus). Species Account Number 368. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. U.S.D.A. For. Serv. N. Region Publ. R1-93-34. Missoula, Mont. Dobkin, D.S. 1994. Conservation and management of neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. Univ. Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 220 pp. Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp. Fink, D., K.V. Rosenberg, F.A. La Sorte, M.J. Iliff, C. Wood, and S. Kelling. 2013. Species distribution modeling of priority bird species on Bureau of Land Management lands to determine stewardship responsibility for conservation planning. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 224 p. Franzreb, K.E. and R.D. Ohmart. 1978. The effects of timber harvesting on breeding birds in a mixed-coniferous forest. Condor 80: 431-441. Gillihan, SW. and T. VerCauteren. 2015. Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds. Brighton, CO: Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. 91 p. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hayward, C.L., C. Cottam, A.M. Woodbury, and H.H. Frost. 1976. Birds of Utah. Brigham Young Univ. Press, Provo. 229 pp. Hejl, S.J., R.L. Hutto, C.R. Preston, and D.M. Finch. 1995. The effects of silvicultural treatments on forest birds in the Rocky Mountains. pp. 220-244 In: T.E. Martin and D.M. Finch (eds). Ecology and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 489 p. Henderson, S. 1997. Effects of fire on avian distributions and patterns of abundance over two vegetation types in southwest Montana : implications for managing fire for biodiversity. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 95 p. Hendricks, P. 2000. Roadside bird counts on BLM lands in Petroleum and Fergus Counties, Montana. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 57pp. Hutto, R. L., and J. S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32, Ogden, Utah. Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp. Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Knopf, F.L., J.A. Sedgwick, and D.B. Inkley. 1990. Regional correspondence among shrubsteppe bird habitats. Condor 92: 45-53. Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp. Martin, T.E. 1988. Habitat and area effects on forest bird assemblages: is nest predation an influence? Ecology 69(1):74-84. Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. Morton, M.L. 1991. Postfledging dispersal of green-tailed towhees to a subalpine meadow. Condor 93: 466-468. Newlon, K.R. 2005. Demography of Lewis's Woodpecker, breeding bird densities, and riparian Aspen integrity in a grazed landscape. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 101 p. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. Phillips, A., J. Marshall, and G. Monson. 1964. The birds of Arizona. Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson. Pitkin, P. and L. Quattrini. 2017. Pocket Guide to Sagebrush Birds. Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and Point Blue Conservation Science. 68 p. Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1996, Spring Creek Mine 1995 Wildlife Monitoring Studies. Spring Creek Coal Company 1995-1996 Mining Annual Report. Vol. I, App. I. May 1996. Raphael, M.G., M.L. Morrison, and M.P. Yoder-Williams. 1987. Breeding bird populations during twenty-five years of postfire succession in the Sierra Nevada. Condor 89: 614-626. Richmond, C.W. and F.H. Knowlton. 1894. Birds of south-central Montana. Auk 11:298-308. Rising, J.D. 1996. A guide to the identification and natural history of the sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press, Inc., San Diego, CA. 365 pp. Saab, V. and C. Groves. 1992. Idaho's migratory landbirds, description, habitats & conservation. Nongame Wildlife Leaflet #10. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, UBLM, USFS, USFWS, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. 16 p. Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p. Sedgwick, J.A. 1987. Avian habitat relationships in pinyon-juniper woodlands. Wilson Bull. 99: 413-431. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p. U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. White, C.M., N.J. Van Lanen, D.C. Pavlacky Jr., J.A. Blakesley, R.A. Sparks, J.M.Stenger, J.A. Rehm-Lorber, M.F. McLaren, F. Cardone, J.J. Birek and D.J. Hanni. 2011. Integrated monitoring of bird conservation regions (IMBCR): 2010 Annual Report. Brighton, CO: Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. 387 p. Wiens, J.A. and J.T. Rotenberry. 1981. Habitat associations and community structure of birds in shrubsteppe environments. Ecological Monographs 51: 21-41. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Green-tailed Towhee"
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