EDITOR’S NOTE: Our newest columnist Neil Ball shares photos and profiles of local birds that he’s seen, studied and photographed in our area.
Meet the Dark-eyed Junco
By Neil Ball
If you have a yard, you have seen the Dark-eyed Junco. If you have taken a walk on a nature trail, you have seen the Dark-eyed Junco. If you have an outside container with plants, you might have been surprised to find a Junco nest nestled in with your plants. The Dark-eyed Juncos are abundant in our area. Ground feeders, these adorable little songbirds flit about in the understory searching for seeds and insects.
One of the easiest recognizable features of the Junco is the tail. Juncos have a couple of bright white feathers on both sides of their tail which they flash both to show dominance, and to woo a mate. Studies have shown that if you are up in the mountains, the white feathers will be wider and more pronounced that the feather of the Juncos in urban areas. That is because the competition for mates and territory in the hills is more intense than in the lowlands. Therefore, the Juncos in our area with less bold colors are finding mates where they may not in the mountains, so the bold feather trait doesn’t get passed down.
The Dark-eyed Juncos are a highly varied species with as many as 15 sub-species across North America. What you know and love as a Junco in B-Town, will look completely different in Minneapolis. What we have here is known as the Oregon Dark-eyed Junco sub-species.
As I noted earlier, the Juncos like to build their nests in often inopportune places. We have one that likes our ornamental planters. It is always a surprise when we go to water the pot and an extremely disappointed momma Junco flies out and starts to scold us. They also like to build their nests in rockeries, ferns, or any collection of plants to hide their babies.
Questions, suggestions, requests? E-mail me at [email protected].