Black-Headed Grosbeaks and Spotted Rufous-Sided Towhees are both members of the Family Emberizidae.

Black-Headed Grosbeaks are finch-like birds, stocky and larger than sparrows, with thick, strong triangular bills adapted for seed-cracking. Their favorite feeder foods are striped and black-oiled sunflower seeds. They will eat seeds from the ground and above ground feeders.

The picture above is of male grosbeak. The female is brown with sparrow-like streaks above and a head patterned with light strips and a dark ear patch. The breast is ochre-brown.

We’ve had two male grosbeaks and one female grosbeak (that I know of) at our backyard feeders. It was difficult to get a photo of these birds. They are awkward and cautious and fly away with any movement.

The Spotted Rufous-Sided Towhee is smaller and more slender than a Robin. You’ll see it rummaging noisily among the dead leaves. These birds have a hop-and-scratch foraging style. Jumping  forward, head and tail up, a towhee kicks its long legs backward, propelling leaf litter behind it. The towhee feeds on small invertebrates and seeds that it turns up. They also eat seeds of weeds and grasses, grains, fruits, and broken acorns. These relatively large but shy birds rush for cover at the smallest disturbance. They are ground feeders and their favorite feeder foods are mixed seed and millet.

It is recognized by its rufous sides. The male has a black head and chest, orange-red sides, white belly, and black back heavily spotted with white. It flashes large white patches in the tail corners. The eye is fiery red. If you look closely you can see the eye in this photo. The female is similar to the male but dusky brown where the male is black. The bill is dark and not as thick and strong as that of the grosbeak.

At first glance you might mistake one species for the other or think they are the same bird because of the similarity of color and design. However, at closer inspection, the Spotted Towhee is slender while the Black-Headed Grosbeak is stocky. The bill of the towhee is dark while the bill of the grosbeak is lighter.