to·​whee ˈtō-ˌhē How to pronounce towhee (audio)
: a long-tailed passerine bird (Pipilo erythrophthalmus of the family Emberizidae) of eastern North America with the male having reddish sides, white underparts, and black upperparts, head, and neck

called also chewink

: any various similar related birds (genera Pipilo and Melozone) found mainly in western North America

Note: Towhees live primarily on the ground, often in bushes and thickets, where they feed on insects and seeds.

Examples of towhee in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Ground birds such as dove, quail and towhees will eagerly peck at seed on the ground, but the birds need cover close by in case a prowling Cooper’s hawk is looking for an easy lunch. Ernie Cowan, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Feb. 2024 The species that most commonly exhibit this are northern mockingbirds, northern cardinals, eastern towhees, and eastern bluebirds. Taylor Piephoff, Charlotte Observer, 31 Jan. 2024 Expect to see resident birds such as the black phoebe, Cassin’s kingbird, California and spotted towhee, song sparrow and red-tailed, red-shoulder and Cooper’s hawks. Kim Janssen, Los Angeles Times, 12 Oct. 2023 An Eastern towhee was spotted in the leaves as Strickland Wheelock led a bird tour in the Great Swamp. Billy Baker,, 12 May 2023 Some species, such as Eastern towhees and common yellowthroats, will make their nests in brush piles. Scott Kirkwood, Washington Post, 16 Mar. 2023 The Eastern towhee, one of 9 species identified as declining regionally in the Audubon Society of Rhode Island's State of Our Birds report, is declining by more than 3 percent annually. Brian Amaral,, 31 Jan. 2023 To date, Creager’s rescues have included a cardinal, a wren, a towhee and a mockingbird. Mary Colurso |, al, 23 Sep. 2020 The idea is to walk the course and look for the birds, starting with Canada geese on Hole 1 and then through such species as Eastern towhees, American robins, belted kingfishers and mallards. Washington Post, 10 Feb. 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'towhee.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


probably imitative of the bird's call

Note: This name for the bird was first recorded by the English naturalist Mark Catesby (1683-1749) in The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, vol. 1 (London, 1731), p. 34. The description of the bird is under the heading "The Towhe-Bird." The heading "Passer niger, oculis rubris [black sparrow with red eyes], the Towhe Bird" without the description was published slightly earlier by Cromwell Mortimer in "VI. An account of Mr. Mark Catesby's essay towards the natural history of Carolina and the Bahama Isands, with some extracts out of the first three sets," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. 36, issue 415 (December 31, 1730), p. 430. If the name is descriptive of the bird's two-note call, as is usually assumed, the original stress was probably on the second syllable.

First Known Use

circa 1729, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of towhee was circa 1729

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Cite this Entry

“Towhee.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


to·​whee ˈtō-ˌhē How to pronounce towhee (audio) ˈtō-ē How to pronounce towhee (audio)
: a finch of eastern North America in which the male has a black back, a white belly, and reddish sides
also : any of various related birds mostly of the western U.S. and Canada

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