The spotted towhee is a large New World sparrow. The taxonomy of the towhees has been debated in recent decades, and until 1995 this bird and the eastern towhee were considered a single species, the rufous-sided towhee. Literature before 1995 referred to the spotted towhee as a rufous-sided towhee that resides in the western United States. An archaic name for the spotted towhee is the Oregon towhee. The call may be harsher and more varied than for the eastern towhee.
The spotted towhee is a large New World sparrow, roughly the same size as a Robin. It has a long, dark fan shaped tail with white corners on the end. They have a round body (similar to New World sparrows) with bright red eyes and dull pink legs. The spotted towhee is between 17 cm (6.7 in) and 21 cm (8.3 in) long, and weighs in at between 33 g (1.2 oz) and 49 g (1.7 oz). The spotted towhee has a wingspan of 11.0 in (28 cm).
Adult males have a generally darker head, upper body and tail with a white belly, rufous sides, white spots on their back and white wing bars. Females look similar but are dark brown and grey instead of black. The spotted towhee has white spots on its primary and secondary feathers; the Eastern towhee is the same bird in terms of its size and structure but does not have white spots.