Northwestern birds migrate eastwards to the central plains of the United States, mostly the northwestern-central Great Plains. In other areas, some birds may move to lower elevations in winter.
Their breeding habitat is chaparral, thickets or shrubby areas across western North America. This bird interbreeds with the Collared Towhee where their ranges overlap in southwestern Mexico.
They nest either on the ground or low in bushes, seldom more than 1.5 m above the ground. The female builds the nest over a period of about 5 days. It is bulky and sturdily made of leaves, strips of bark, twigs, forb stalks, and grasses, lined with pine needles, shredded bark, grasses, and sometimes hairs.
At least two broods, consisting of 3 to 5 eggs, are laid per season. The egg shells are greyish or creamy-white, sometimes with a tinge of green, with reddish brown spots that can form a wreath or cap. The female incubates the eggs alone for 12 to 14 days; the young leave the nest at 10 to 12 days. Nests are parasitized by cowbirds.
These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation, with a habit of noisily rummaging through dry leaves searching for food. They mainly eat insects, acorns, seeds and berries.
The call may be harsher and more varied than for the Eastern Towhee.