Be Your Own Birder

Weekly Bird: Dark-Eyed Junco

The dark-eyed junco is a bird that brings mixed feelings to birders. They’re charming little birds and can be lovely visitors, but they are also mostly around in winter, which means months of freezing weather, fewer bird visitors, and less pleasant birding opportunities. But if you learn more about juncos, you’ll find they can warm your heart no matter what the temperature may be outside!

Dark-Eyed Junco - Oregon Race

Dark-Eyed Junco – Oregon Race – Photo by Sandy Hill

Dark-Eyed Junco Fun Facts
  • The dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) is part of the Passerellidae bird family, along with many familiar sparrows and towhees, as well as other types of juncos.
  • These birds have at least 15 different races, some of which look very different in color, size, and markings, but all are considered the same species – at least for now! They were formerly considered separate species, and it is possible that dark-eyed juncos may be split again as more research is completed to determine just how different they are.
  • Because of their association with winter weather, dark-eyed juncos are often called snowbirds. Other names for these birds include descriptive names based on their race or subspecies, such as the Oregon junco, slate-colored junco, or pink-sided junco.
  • The Oregon junco (the race found in the Pacific Northwest) is the only bird to still include that state’s name in its common name.
  • Dark-eyed juncos are well adapted to cold weather, and their feathers weigh up to 30 percent more in their winter plumage. After molting in late winter or early spring, their coats are much lighter to be better suited to higher summer temperatures.
  • These small birds are very social and will gather in flocks that may have two dozen birds or more. A flock of juncos is called a chittering, flutter, crew, or host. Juncos will also join mixed flocks with chickadees, sparrows, and kinglets.
  • These are monogamous birds and may mate for life, especially since they will stay in flocks year-round, so mates are able to maintain their bond. If a pair is unable to breed successfully, however, they will “divorce” and seek better mates.
  • Dark-eyed juncos are one of the most common winter birds to visit feeders, and 80 percent of birders report juncos making visits to their feeders during the Project FeederWatch count in mid-February.
Adding the Dark-Eyed Junco to Your Life List

These are relatively easy birds to find within their range, especially in the winter when they are more likely to visit feeders. Millet and sunflower seeds are some of their favorite foods, and they will happily clean up weed, grass, or flower seeds that have fallen to the ground. Leaving leaf litter intact and adding ground-feeding areas to the yard are easy ways to attract dark-eyed juncos. Also look for these birds in pine thickets, often staying low or hopping on the ground as they forage. They will also forage in dormant flowerbeds in parks, and can often be seen along roadsides where winter seeds may be easier to access.

Learn More About Dark-Eyed Juncos

Discover more fun with juncos through these authoritative resources…

Dark-Eyed Junco - Slate-Colored Race

Dark-Eyed Junco – Slate-Colored Race – Photo by Matt Tillett

4 thoughts on “Weekly Bird: Dark-Eyed Junco

  1. Bonnie Olson

    Its april. I live in the napa valley, up on a mountain. Juncos have been feeding from a saucer full of millet all winter. All of a sudden theyre gone. Have i done something wrong?

    1. Mayntz Post author

      You’ve done nothing wrong at all – there are a lot of reasons why birds might seem to suddenly leave a feeding area. A nearby predator (cat, raptor, raccoon, snake) could startle them, and it might take a while for them to return to the area. They may also have found a different feeding area – they’re not too loyal to a single spot. Just be sure the saucer is cleaned and filled, and either the juncos will return, or other birds will find the feast!

  2. knut hamsun

    i found a junko nest with babies this morning in tall grass under a fallen rain gutter while operating a weed eater. i leaned a big piece of plywood over the whole area to keep the dogs from poking around it, but i just now looked and the parents are gone and it’s dark out. i’m worried i caused them to abandon it😩

    1. Mayntz Post author

      You did the right thing to protect the nest! The parents may have been out gathering food and were likely nearby. Just keep an eye on it for a few days, but keep your distance (and keep the dogs away!).

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