Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
California Towhee feeding in a garden
The taxonomy of this species has been debated. At the higher level, some authors place the towhees in the family Fringillidae. Within the group, there has been debate about whether the distinction between this species and the similar Canyon Towhee, Pipilo fuscus, should be at the specific or subspecific level. The two populations are quite isolated from each other, and molecular genetics seems to have settled the matter in favour of two distinct species for the present. On the other hand there seems to be little distinction between the northern and Baja Californian populations within P. crissalis.
The California Towhee's natural habitat is brush or chaparral, but it adapts well to urban parks and gardens. However its skulking habits and nondescript appearance mean that it is not one of the better known garden birds. It is around 20-25cm in length, and has a noticeably long tail. It is earthy brown in color, with somewhat lighter underparts and a somewhat darker head and a slightly reddish area beneath the tail. There is little sexual dimorphism.
The California Towhee feeds on the ground or in low scrub rather than in the tree canopy.
- Zink, R. M., & Dittmann, D. L. (1991). Evolution of brown towhees - mitochondrial-DNA evidence. Condor, 93, 98-105.
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