English and Scientific names:

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus arcticus)- Plains ssp

Number of individuals: 

and attempted aging/plumages: There were two birds on 2-01. First was a probable adf, the latter a probable hym. Both were large, dark sparrows first detected by fairly loud and ascending, then descending raspy/buzzy "GRAIR" or "GREER" calls. Both were seen well, subsequently brought into view at close range by playback, also studied on and off for several minutes to determine as best as possible that they were not EATO/SPTO hybrids. Overall plumage and wings of both birds were seen well and appeared to lack any white at base of primaries with both wingbars appearing of even width and lacking any bulge in greater covert wingbar at edge of folded wing. Spot/streaking on mantle rather heavy/large spots and consistent for subspecies arcticus on all individuals seen. No non-song vocals/calls were given suggesting EATO. Otherwise, they were seen to have heavily spotted/streaked mantles along with narrow whitish tertial edging. The first bird found in earlier AM appeared to be an adult female due to a combination of characters= 1.The bird was mostly blackish above and lacked any warm or brown tones. 2. However, there was a noted paler suffusion to face, more grayish and the overall ground color or blackness of back, wings and hood was not quite as dark as I'm accustomed to. 3. The eye had a good reddish tinge The 2nd bird was a probable hym. It was notably dark, blackish, but was also seen to have a very deep but notably warm brownish suffusion to back, wings, and hood. No note of eye color. (It is possible that I originally and hurriedly reported to Van Remsen that my plumage assessment for the 1st bird was hym and 2nd as adf - momentary dyslexic glitch)

     The bird on 2-14 was possibly seen a bit late in the day to assess if there were any brownish suffusion to the plumage. Otherwise, it appeared to be dark, black and an adm. The bird was seen well at close range on and off for several minutes and wingbar shape and mantle spotting definitely appeared to be entirely SPTO.  Again, the bird was first detected by the ascending, then descending buzzy call. Charlie noted during the observation that the he saw the bird also make an eastern call although I did not get a description at the time of the call he was referring to. There were also several EATO present nearby but he's certain he saw the bird make the call. Contact him for information on that. I did observe the bird on one occasion make the "GREER" call and also heard this call several times in response to ESOW and playback while it remained concealed.   


Locality: LOUISIANA: 

Bossier and Claiborne on 2 separate dates

Specific Locality:

On 2-01-09= Bossier par, Plain Dealing= 2 individuals. The first, a probable adult female, the 2nd bird a probable hatch year male. The first bird was found on lake rd, approximately slightly over a mile West of LA Hwy 3- approximately 100+,- yards past intersection/ turnoff S to Plain Dealing Lake. The 2nd bird was found in late afternoon approximately 2 miles NNE of the first near 858 Bolinger Cutoff rd. just W of  Hwy157, approximately a mile or so east of La 3.

   On 2-14-09, there was a single bird found by myself and Charlie Lyon in Claiborne par. The bird was found NNE of Colquitt community on Tom Sale rd approximately a mile S of it's intersection with Paul Odom rd., also approximately a mile E of 520.


Date(s) when observed:

2-01-09= 1 prob adf, 1 prob hym. On 2-14= 1 no certain age.



Time(s) of day when observed:  

2-01-09= The first prob adf was observed fairly early AM but in ample light, the second and prob hym in late afternoon/early evening but also in ample light. The bird on 2-14 was seen late in the day. In my opinion it was seen well enough to confirm SPTO plumagewise but not enough to age.




Reporting observer and address:

Terry Davis, 2327

 Bossier City, La. 71112.

Other observers accompanying reporter who also identified the bird(s):

Charlie Lyon,


Other observers accompanying reporter who also identified the bird(s): 


Light conditions:

Notes for Plain Dealing on 2-01 indicate only that it was clear beginning. The bird was seen on both N and S sides of rd. in good light. From memory was slightly before sun rose above surrounding trees. The 2nd indiv seen in late afternoon was observed on N side of rd. with my back facing sun- if there was any- was not in notes. The indiv with C Lyon on 2-14 was observed on both E AND w sides of the rd. The sun had gone below the trees by the time in the evening.

Optical equipment: 

Brunton eterna 11x45 bins in excellent optical condition.

Distance to bird(s): 

The 1st bird on 2-01-09 was seen at different times as it relocated from approximately 20'-40'. The 2nd bird was seen at closest range at approximately 35'-40' away. The indiv on 2-14 was seen from 20' to + feet by myself although charlie saw it- while it remained at the time concealed from my viewing angle- at closer range while on E side of rd.

Duration of observation:

all of 3 individuals on separate dates were observed on and off for approximately 5-15 minutes. 


Interestingly, all of the sightings were in young, dense pines 6'-10' with some but notably less deciduous vegetation surrounding/interspersed. All areas were somewhat hilly, also with grassy edge- all off of small rural rds. All immediate areas surrounding were quite dry except for 2nd bird/hym on Bolinger Cutoff on 2-01 where the area was lower and although with heavy tall grass- appeared lush/ possibly with wetter substrate. Also of note is that there were at least 3-4- or more EATO present at each location where SPTO occured. From memory of other sightings, higher nos. of EATO at a single location increase the chances of one finding SPTO. 



Behavior of bird: 

3 birds on separated dates were furtive and remained at least partially concealed by surrounding vegetation during the observations although were seen well for good moments during each observation. I was able to entice the 2 Plain Dealing birds into view and could have had full-frame and entire closeups of the 1st bird if I'd had a camera. The second bird was somewhat more secretive. The Colquitt bird on 2-14 was visible at closer range for longer period of time to Charlie although I did see the wing and mantle pattern well for 30 seconds or so after it relocated to the W side of rd. All birds quite frequently gave "growl"- call in response to playback


Most in nos., plumages above. In addition to above descriptions, all were also seen to be white below which sharply delineated from black of hood and upper breast and contrasting strong chestnut- orange sides of breast. Long tails with white spots noted  mainly while in flight at edge near tip and tips of rectrices.


A raspy/buzzy ascending, then descending growl = "GREER" or "GRAIR". Some authors have mentioned that this call of P m arcticus does not descend. I firmly disagree. While a few calls were occasionally heard to sound somewhat more level to ascending then level, the majority certainly had a descending effect near end- especially when at close range. From a distance, the call is somewhat reminiscent to WAVI call.

Similar species:

I'm relatively certain that Eastern Towhee  or hybrids thereof can be safely eliminated by above descriptions of wingbars/mantle spotting. All certain calls that I heard from above birds were SPTO. It is possible that I lumped an Eastern sound I was hearing to nearby calling EATO from the Colquitt bird on 2-14 but plumage certainly matched SPTO. Charlie saw give an eastern call. Trying to remember exact words, I cannot remember whether he said it was giving an eastern call or partial-eastern call or exactly how he worded it. When observing the 1st bird and adf on 2-01 and the prob adult on 2-14, both were seen in flight relocating and also showed less white than usual for EATO by absence of flashing white primary patch- fairly large in extended wing of EATO. This flashes well in EATO in flight but causes SPTO to look less white above in flight- with the smaller mantle spots and wingbars of SPTO moreso blurring into the darker color above.

Photographs or tape recordings obtained?


Previous experience with this species?

In a visit to hill country in April of 2000 with James Beck we observed numerous SPTO. I've seen 15-20, possibly more SPTO in NW La. over the years. Approxiamtely 8-10 years ago someone mentioned/I read there was some likelihood of encoutering hybrids with EATO. Since that time I've studied waht literature I could find available on plumages of hybrids, etc.

Identification aids: 

at time of observation:


after observation:


Notes made from? 

This description was written in part from notes afield and memory.

Are you positive of your identification? If not, explain: 


I'll say I'm 99-100% positive of my ID, and that they were not hybrids based on plumage characters that observed on each- barring the possibility (I don't know which if exists) that they were backcross hybrids with less conspicuous markings, etc.


Terry Davis  

Date and time: 

4-02-2009     6:00 P.M.