Often referred to as our ‘Snow Bird’, the Dark-eyed Junco is another one of our winter visitors. In the late fall Junco’s will migrate from their breeding grounds across Northern Canada and Alaska south into Southern Canada and the US. Juncos vary in colour depending on what region they are in, but the Dark-eyed Junco is the one we see here in the east.
Male Dark-eyed Juncos are handsome little dark grey birds with white undersides and outer tail feathers. They look like they’re wearing a tuxedo! The females are lighter in colour and the males and females both have pale pink bills. Their song is a very pleasant one-pitch trill consisting of 7-23 notes. Juncos also use short chipping calls during flight and while foraging for seed. There is a pecking order with these birds. While feeding you may see two chipping at one another with short bursts of flight. This is likely a dominant male as they dominate over the females and juveniles. Generally speaking though, they tend to feed contentedly in small flocks. Dark-eyed Juncos will mate for life, and have been known to live as long as 11 years.
Juncos prefer forest edges rather than heavily wooded areas. During late fall and winter months you can find them in fields and meadows, by roadsides as well as in your backyard garden. They especially like spaces that offer ground cover such as bushes, shrubs and wood piles. Planting native plants and grasses is a good way to attract them to your yard. Letting the plants go to seed will entice these birds to feast on the remnants.
Dark-eyed Juncos will migrate to their northern breeding grounds in the early spring. The male will sing in the tree tops to attract a mate. The female will build a cup-shaped nest close to the ground. She will lay 4-5 white to pale blue speckled eggs and incubate them for 12 days. After fledgling, the young will depend on their parents for another 3 weeks. Juncos have also been known to nest in flower pots and window sills. They will have 2 broods in the breeding season.
Their diet changes seasonally. During the breeding season they will eat more insects including wasps, flies, ants, beetles, butterflies and caterpillars. The rest of the year they prefer the seeds from sorrel, chickweed and buckwheat plants. While they are here during the winter months you can offer them millet, fine sunflower and sunflower hearts. Juncos are mostly ground feeders, but will also go to a hanging bird feeder. In my backyard I see them feeding on the ground, in my ground feeder, and cylinder feeders. Over the past few years, I have noticed many more juncos at my hanging feeders. This started when we had the terrible ice storm in 2013. I hope you all get to enjoy these delightful birds over the cold winter months.
Author – Jane Paradis