Juncos in Snow Journal

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Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemelis)

Inhabitants of open woodlands and forest edges, Dark-eyed Juncos are small birds with clean markings and distinctive white outer tail feathers. Juncos are members of the sparrow family, and this species includes several distinctive-looking populations differing mainly in the color and contrast of the head and body plumage. They are all similar in shape and habits and are considered to be the same species.

Dark-eyed Juncos range from Alaska to Newfoundland southward in mountainous areas to southern California and northern Georgia in summer, and from southern Canada to northern Mexico and Florida in winter. They are the best known species of junco, being found quite commonly throughout their range.

Coniferous and mixed forests make up the breeding habitat for all juncos. The breeding season lasts from April to August, with two broods of 3-6 grey or pale blue eggs speckled with brown produced per season. The female builds the nests using moss, twigs and grasses. The male helps to gather these materials. The nest is generally made in a cup-shaped depression on the ground, well-hidden by vegetation or brush piles, or sometimes it is made in low tree branches or shrubs. Eggs take 11-12 days to hatch and the fledglings leave the nest 12-13 days later.

Juncos prefer feeding on the ground, scratching in leaves or the snow for food. In summer their diet consists mainly of insects, such as beetles, caterpillars and spiders. In winter, they eat seeds and small grains, moving from their breeding grounds into more open woods or weedy fields and city parks. They will visit bird feeders and will eat while perched, but prefer to eat the seeds other birds have dropped on the ground.

Dark-eyed Juncos flock together in winter and are often seen in small groups feeding together. They are often called "snowbirds" and indeed their name Junco hyemelis comes from the Latin hiemalis; pertaining to winter. So when these little birds show up in the fall you will know that winter is not far behind!

artwork by Susan Bull Rilely ©2006 

text by Anne Trawick

Tags: birds, winter,