Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

How about a little birding history? John James Audubon, writing about this species in the early 1800’s said: “There is not an individual in the Union who does not know the little Snow-bird.” The nickname stuck and the Dark-eyed Junco is still referred to as the “snowbird.” Maybe it is the bird’s winter-like plumage. When Juncos take flight their outer white tail feathers contrast with the grey of the back, wings, and tail. The breast and belly are snow white. These colors are nicely counterpointed by pink feet, legs, and bill.

Dark-eyed Juncos make their homes across the North American continent; they are one of our most abundant and ubiquitous species. In the winter, flocks of juncos take advantage of bird seed feeders. Preferred habitat includes suburban yards, parks, rural roadsides, and farmland. One study estimated the population in North America to be over 600 million birds. Juncos are migratory, but only move limited distances from their summer territories.

What do my feeder birds eat when they are not at the feeder? We know that Juncos consume large quantities of native seeds like chickweed, pigweed, knotweed, sorrel, timothy, and ragweed. Need some weed suppression in your garden? Invite Juncos to your yard! Favorite birdfood ingredients include white proso millet, canary grass, and black oil sunflower. Dark-eyed Juncos are classic ground feeding birds. Watch as they hop forward and scratch their feet backward to expose uneaten seeds under your feeders.

In breeding season, Junco flocks disband, couples pair up, and many retreat to secluded wooded areas to nest. Nests are located close to the ground on sloping grades, under exposed roots, or within rock crevices. Another favorite site is among the exposed root balls of wind-toppled trees. The nest locations makes them fairly susceptible to predators like chipmunks and mice. Thankfully, the Dark-eyed Junco population is large and stable. We are assured of being able to continue to enjoy the subtle beauty of America’s “snowbird.”

Reference: Nolan, Jr., V., E. D. Ketterson, D. A. Cristol, C. M. Rogers, E. D. Clotfelter, R. C. Titus, S. J. Schoech and E. Snajdr. 2002. Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.