This small sparrow has five distinct plumage variations and a wide range of hybrids that are all considered the same bird species. When grouping the different plumages together, however, this bird species is one of the most common birdfeeder visitors. Because these birds prefer colder climates, their appearance at backyard feeders in temperate areas is often considered a sign of winter’s arrival and earns the birds their nickname, snowbirds.
- Bill: Short, pointed, pale
- Size: 6 inches long with 9.5-inch wingspan, long tail, stocky body
- Colors: Gray, white, rufous, black, brown
- Markings: Plumages vary greatly for the different types of dark-eyed juncos; see Pictures of Juncos for details. All junco species have white outer tail feathers, a black, gray or brown hood and a white lower chest, abdomen and undertail coverts. While both genders are similar, females tend to be paler and juvenile birds of all plumage variations are streaked.
Habitat and Migration:
While the individual plumage variations of dark-eyed juncos have more restricted ranges (see Pictures of Juncos for details), together these birds are one of the most widespread sparrow species in North America. They prefer coniferous forests and boreal habitats, and can be found throughout the United States and Canada. Older males will stay in the northern parts of their range throughout the year, while younger birds and females migrate to the continental United States during the winter months. Dark-eyed juncos can also be found in the northeastern United States and Rocky Mountain regions throughout the year.
Despite the great differences in plumage, all dark-eyed juncos share similar songs and calls. The principle song is a high, rapid trill that lasts for approximately two seconds and maintains the same pitch. Alarm calls are a high, flat “chip” or “tip” while aggressive calls are a repetitive “kew-kew-kew” sound often heard when birds argue at backyard feeders.
During most of the year dark-eyed juncos are solitary birds, but during the winter months they will band into small flocks or form mixed flocks with other small, seed-eating birds such as chickadees, sparrows and nuthatches. When in flocks, juncos have a strong hierarchy built around a dominant male bird, and that hierarchy may lead to feeder aggression and bold displays, including flashing the outer tail feathers.
Dark-eyed juncos are monogamous birds. The female will incubate a brood of 3-5 eggs for 12-13 days, and both parents will feed insects to the rapidly growing altricial young for 9-13 days. Juncos can raise 1-2 broods per year, with multiple broods more common in southern populations.
Attracting Dark-Eyed Juncos:
Dark-eyed juncos are easily attracted to ground and platform feeders with millet, bread crumbs, cracked corn or hulled sunflower seeds. Birders who provide some low shrubbery as cover and leave leaf litter undisturbed can also attract these birds to their backyard.
- Yellow-Eyed Junco (Junco phaeonotus)
- Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
- Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculates)