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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Dark-eyed Junco Photo

Dark-eyed Juncos are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter. They’re easy to recognize by their crisp (though extremely variable) markings and the bright white tail feathers they habitually flash in flight. One of the most abundant forest birds of North America, you’ll see juncos on woodland walks as well as in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them.

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Keys to identification Help

Sparrows
Sparrows
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Dark-eyed Junco is a medium-sized sparrow with a rounded head, a short, stout bill and a fairly long, conspicuous tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Juncos vary across the country (see Regional Differences), but in general they’re dark gray or brown birds brightened up by a pink bill and white outer tail feathers that periodically flash open, particularly in flight.

  • Behavior

    Dark-eyed Juncos are birds of the ground. They hop around the bases of trees and shrubs in forests or venture out onto lawns looking for fallen seeds. You’ll often hear their high chip notes, given almost absent-mindedly while foraging, or intensifying as they take short, low flights through cover.

  • Habitat

    Dark-eyed Juncos breed in coniferous or mixed-coniferous forests across Canada, the western U.S., and in the Appalachians. During winter you’ll find them in open woodlands, fields, parks, roadsides, and backyards.

Range Map Help

Dark-eyed Junco Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Male (Slate-colored)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    Male (Slate-colored)
    • Dark gray upperparts
    • White belly
    • Pink bill
    • © Gary Mueller, Rolla, Missouri, February 2007
  • (Slate-colored)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    (Slate-colored)
    • Pink bill
    • Gray upperparts
    • White belly
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 2008
  • Male (Oregon)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    Male (Oregon)
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado
  • Male (Oregon)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    Male (Oregon)
    • Dark gray hood sharply defined around head and upper breast
    • Light brown flanks and back
    • Pink bill
    • © Terri Gueck, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, February 2007
  • Female (Oregon)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    Female (Oregon)
    • Gray hood sharply defined around head and upper breast
    • Brownish back
    • Pale peach flanks
    • © Keith Evans, South Ogden, Utah, February 2007
  • (Oregon)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    (Oregon)
    • Dark gray hood
    • Pale peach flanks
    • Rusty back
    • Sparrow-like body shape
    • © Shelley Spencer, Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2007
  • (Gray-headed)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    (Gray-headed)
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado
  • (Gray-headed)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    (Gray-headed)
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado
  • Male (Pink-sided)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    Male (Pink-sided)
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado
  • Male (White-winged)

    Dark-eyed Junco

    Male (White-winged)
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado

Similar Species

  • Adult

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult
    • Upperparts rufous with black and white edging
    • White throat and eyebrow
    • Yellow lores
    • Gray and brown flanks
    • © wreckingball34 , New Jersey, January 2007
  • Adult

    Black Phoebe

    Adult
    • Similar to Slate-colored race of Dark-eyed Junco
    • More upright posture than juncos; rarely forages on ground
    • Bill black, longer and thinner; legs black
    • No white outer tail feathers
    • Bobs tail
    • © Jon Rowley, California, February 2008
  • Adult

    Spotted Towhee

    Adult
    • Similar to "Oregon" form of Dark-eyed Junco
    • Dark back with white markings
    • Larger size
    • Bill black, eye usually red
    • Large, rusty patches on sides extend to undertail
    • © Jeff Larsen, Washington, December 2008

Similar Species

The Yellow-eyed Junco of extreme southern Arizona and New Mexico resembles the red-backed and gray-headed forms of the Dark-eyed Junco, but they have a staring yellow eye and a bill that is black above, yellow below. Beginning bird watchers sometimes get confused by the Black Phoebe, a flycatcher of California and the Southwest. Black Phoebes are colored very similarly to the slate-colored form of the Dark-eyed Junco, but they act very differently: they have a flycatcher's erect posture, large head, and tendency to sit still on exposed perches. Female Spotted Towhees may resemble the Oregon form of Dark-eyed Junco but have the same shade of brown on the head and back and large white spots across the wings and back.

Regional Differences

There is a huge range of geographic variation in the Dark-eyed Junco. Among the 15 described races, six forms are easily recognizable in the field and five used to be considered separate species until the 1980s. A field guide is the best place to look for complete illustration of ranges and plumages, but in general there are two widespread forms of the Dark-eyed Junco: “slate-colored” junco of the eastern United States and most of Canada, which is smooth gray above; and “Oregon” junco, found across much of the western U.S., with a dark hood, warm brown back and rufous flanks. Other more restricted variations include the slate-colored-like “white-winged” and Oregon-like “pink-sided” juncos of the Rockies and western Great Plains; and the Yellow-eyed Junco-like “red-backed” and “gray-headed” juncos of the Southwest.

Backyard Tips

You can find Dark-eyed Juncos by walking around open, partially wooded areas with understory for cover. Keep your eyes on the ground and listen for their twittering call or their trilling song. If they are flushed from the ground, look for an overall gray or dark brown bird with obvious white outer tail feathers.

Find This Bird

You can find Dark-eyed Juncos by walking around open, partially wooded areas with understory for cover. Keep your eyes on the ground and listen for their twittering call or their trilling song. If they are flushed from the ground, look for an overall gray or dark brown bird with obvious, white outer tail feathers.

Get Involved

Did you know that Dark-eyed Juncos are often one of the most frequently reported birds at feeders? Report your counts to Project FeederWatch.

Look for Dark-eyed Junco nests and contribute valuable data about them through NestWatch

Keep your cats indoors! Read about how cats kill a diversity of backyard birds, including juncos.

Enhance your yard to attract sparrows and other birds. Visit our web pages on landscaping for birds.

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Project FeederWatch Top-25 list of feeder birds

Dark-eyed Junco from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1968)