[CT Birds] On this Date (1/25) Spotted Towhee

Greg Hanisek ghanisek at rep-am.com
Tue Jan 26 22:38:33 EST 2010

Regarding Dennis' question, the wide-ranging N.A. bird long known as 
Rufous-sided Towhee was split into the 2 species noted by Dennis (Spotted 
Towhee and Eastern Towhee) in 1995. The current taxonomic thinking (always 
subject to revision) divides Spotted Towhee into 9 subspecies in the western 
U.S. and another 12 in Mexico and Guatemala. The Eastern Towhee is divided 
into 4 subspecies.

Since the split, Connecticut has documented one record of Spotted Towhee. 
The following account appeared in the 12th Report of the Avian Records 
Committee of Connecticut:

"SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus) A first state record for this recently 
split species was established when one was found on 31 Dec 2005 at Groton 
Long Point on the New London Christmas Bird Count (06-08 Scott Tsagarakis*, 
Mark Szantyr ‡, Ryan Sayers ‡). It was seen my many observers until at least 
mid-February. Plumage details ruled out the identification as a hybrid with 
Eastern Towhee and suggested the bird was a first-year female of the Great 
Plains race arcticus."

As is unfortunately often the case, a few older reports of Spotted Towhees, 
from the time when they were not considered a full species, are lacking in 

Greg Hanisek


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Dennis Varza" <dennisvz at optonline.net>
To: "Posting Bird List" <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>; "Jorge de Leon" 
<ornithology.library at yale.edu>; "Susan Hochgraf" <susan.hochgraf at uconn.edu>
Sent: Monday, January 25, 2010 6:54 AM
Subject: [CT Birds] On this Date (1/25)

> 1875 200 Snow Bunting Portland
> 1987 Little Gull Old Saybrook, South Cove
> 1988 Spotted Towhee Colchester
> 1988 Thayer's Gull West Haven Land Fill
> 1992 Barrow's Goldeneye Westport, Sherwood Is. St. Pk.
> Since things are a little slow today I want to make a comment for the 
> "Newbies" (haven' been birding before the mid 80's)
> Deciding what is a species or just a subspecies, until modern DNA 
> techniques, was subjective. The process from going from one species  to 
> two is a continuum  hence drawing a line is a matter of opinion  for 
> species midway in the process. People who decide such thing fall  into two 
> camps Lumpers and Splitters. And like political parties they  each have 
> their ups and downs. In the 70's Lumpers ruled and we lost  many species 
> from our life lists. In general they were eastern and  western forms of 
> the same genetic background. Yellow/Red Shafted  Flicker became Northern 
> Flicker, Baltimore/Bullocks Oriole became  Northern Oriole 
> Rufous-sided/Spotted Towhee became Eastern Towhee  etc. Over the past 20 
> years Splitters have ascended and some of the  lumps have been split 
> again, and new splits made (Saltmarsh/Nelson's  Sparrow). This has been 
> good for the field guide business because  every change meant a new and 
> "up to date" to be had every few years.  It has been tough on birders 
> trying to keep track of what is a  species or not. And imagine the mess it 
> makes of your field notes, or  the poor collection manager in a museum.
> So, that explains why different guides (and birders) of different  ages 
> use different terminology. (don't forget the just plain name  changes 
> (Swainson/Olive-backed Thrush, Long-tailed/Oldsquaw Duck) For  myself,  I 
> have trouble keeping track of some of the less frequently  experienced 
> changes. Which brings be to the point of this rambling.  Several weeks ago 
> a Spotted Towhee was reported in some old banding  records (which turned 
> out to be a typo). Today one was reported in  Colchester, and for the life 
> of me I couldn't recall if the lump  stuck or was re-split.
> According to the AOU Checklist and supplements to 2007 they are split 
> (American Ornithologist's Union the official arbitrator of what is a 
> species or not)
> Pipilo maculatus Spotted Towhee
> Pipilo erythrophthalmus Eastern Towhee (red-eyed towhee is an old  name I 
> found in the literature)
> I assume Greg Hanisek and Mark Szantyr will have more to say.
> Dennnis
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