Dark-eyed Junco

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, a sparrow that defies the stereotype that sparrows are just “little brown jobs,” the Dark-eyed Junco. Although it is in the sparrow family, this little bird certainly doesn’t look it! At last, a sparrow that’s easy to identify! In terms of looks, yes it’s not a plethora of striped browns and blacks. Instead, the Dark-eyed Junco is a mostly solid colored bird. But just what those colors are can differ greatly. We’ve mentioned other birds in this blog before that have different color morphs, or variations, based on their geography. Common Grackles in some parts of the country are more purple, and in others regions more bronzey, for example. This will hardly be the last time we’ll talk about this, but few birds’ plumage varies as greatly as the Dark-eyed Junco. Throughout much of the country, particularly in the east, the juncos you see will be the “slate colored” variety. All of the juncos pictured in this post are “slate colored” Dark-eyed Juncos. They’re slate grey, with a white belly, and pale pinkish bill, with females being a lighter grey. But head out west, and you’ll run into the “Oregon” variety. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might think you were seeing a different species all together! I mean, just look at the two side by side! But, they are the same species. The Oregon junco is brown with a black head. I’m not sure why they differ so greatly. Birds. Always keeping you on your toes.

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Female Dark-eyed Junco (Slate Colored), Central Park, NY

The Dark-eyed Junco is a true winter bird. Although they are year round residents in the Rocky Mountains, and the upper elevations of the Appalachians, they typically spend their summers in Canada, and move down to the U.S. and northern Mexico in winter. Their arrival always signals, to me, the end of fall migration. (well, songbird migration. Waterfowl migration continues into December.) By the end of October, these little grey birds are everywhere, and all the passing through warblers and tanagers and flycatchers, etc. are gone. A true sign of winter.

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Male Dark-eyed Junco (Slate Colored), Central Park, NY

You’ll see them sometimes in pretty large numbers too. They are easily identifiable when they fly off by the white stripes running the length of the outer parts of their tails. They often make a small twittering sound as they fly off as well. Like most sparrows, they prefer open areas where they can feed on the ground. Although they love seeds, I’ve never seen one at a bird feeder. I have seen them on the ground under feeders though in Central Park. They’re just as common here in St. Louis as well, with large flocks all over the place!  I look forward to one day making out west to bird, and see one of those cool Oregon Juncos! So there you have it. The Dark-eyed Junco. A sparrow that’s actually easy to ID, and a harbinger of winter in the majority of the country! Speaking of winter birds, next up is a woodpecker most commonly seen in the winter; the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. See you then!

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