Dark-eyed Juncos breed in forests across much of North America and at elevations ranging from sea level to more than 11,000 feet. They are often found in coniferous forests incuding pine, Douglas-fir, spruce, and fir, but also in deciduous forests such as aspen, cottonwood, oak, maple, and hickory. During winter and on migration they use a wider variety of habitats including open woodlands, fields, roadsides, parks, and gardens.Back to top
Dark-eyed Juncos are primarily seed-eaters, with seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters, sorrel, and the like making up about 75% of their year-round diet. At feeders they seem to prefer millet over sunflower seeds. During the breeding season, Dark-eyed Juncos also eat insects including beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and flies.Back to top
The female chooses the nest site, typically in a depression or niche on sloping ground, rock face, or amid the tangled roots of an upturned tree. Around people, juncos may nest in or underneath buildings. Occasionally, juncos nest above the ground on horizontal branches (rarely as high as 45 feet), window ledges, and in hanging flower pots or light fixtures.
Females build the nests, using her beak to weave together materials and her body to give the nest its shape. Nests can be quite variable depending on where they are built. Sometimes ground nests get just a fine lining of grasses or pine needles. Other nests may be built on a foundation of twigs, leaves and moss, then lined with grasses, ferns, rootlets, hair, and fine pieces of moss. The nests usually take 3-7 days to build, and when finished they are 3-5.5 inches across, with an inner diameter of 2.4-2.8 inches and depth of 1.6-2.8 inches. It’s rare for a junco to reuse a nest.
|Clutch Size:||3-6 eggs|
|Number of Broods:||1-3 broods|
|Egg Length:||0.8-0.8 in (1.9-2.1 cm)|
|Egg Width:||0.6-0.6 in (1.5-1.6 cm)|
|Incubation Period:||12-13 days|
|Nestling Period:||10-13 days|
|Egg Description:||White, gray, pale bluish white, or pale-greenish white speckled with brown, gray and green. Occasionally unmarked.|
|Condition at Hatching:||Naked except for dark gray down on the back, eyes closed, clumsy.|
When foraging, Dark-eyed Juncos typically hop (rather than walk) on the ground, pecking or scratching at the leaf litter, or flit very low in underbrush gleaning food from twigs and leaves. They sometimes fly up from the ground to catch insects from tree trunks. In flight, they flap continuously and pump their tails so the white outer tail feathers flash; flight is very agile as the bird maneuvers through its tangled environs. Male juncos are very territorial in summer, chasing off intruders in rapid flights accompanied by excited call notes. When males court females, they fan or flick open their wings and tail, hop up and down, and pick up pieces of nest material or moss; females seem to prefer males that show more white in the tail. During winter, Dark-eyed Juncos form fairly large flocks, and where wintering ranges overlap you may find several subspecies in a single flock. Juncos also forage with other sparrows and bluebirds. Junco flocks typically have a hierarchy or pecking order, and earlier arrivals tend to rank higher in the group than later arrivals.Back to top
Dark-eyed Juncos are numerous and widespread, though the North American Breeding Bird Survey reports that populations declined by about 0.7% per year between 1966 and 2019, resulting in a cumulative decline of 31%. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 220 million and rates the species 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern.Back to top
Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.
Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.
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