Living Bird Magazine
Living Bird Magazine
Yellow-eyed JuncoJunco phaeonotus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
Yellow-eyed Juncos shuffle through the leaf litter of pine and pine-oak forests with fire in their eyes—a bright yellow-orange gleam that instantly sets them apart from the more widespread Dark-eyed Junco. Otherwise they share many of the markings of the "Red-backed" form of Dark-eyed Junco, including a gray head, two-toned bill, reddish-brown back, and white outer tail feathers that flash when they fly. This specialty of the southwestern U.S. also occurs in mountain forests through Mexico to Guatemala.More ID Info
Find This Bird
In the United States Yellow-eyed Juncos are best known from Arizona's Sky Islands, where large mountains jut out of the desert. Head on up one of these peaks and listen for the junco's trill. In summer the juncos you see should be Yellow-eyed—Dark-eyed Juncos don't breed here, though the similar "Gray-headed" form may show up in winter. If you don't hear them calling or singing, listen for gentle scratching in the understory and a piercing eye might peer back at you. You'll also want to keep an eye out for white tail flashes as the small birds fly around the understory.
- Junco Ojilumbre (Spanish)
- Junco aux yeux jaunes (French)
Yellow-eyed Juncos eat seeds, especially in winter. If you live within their range, they may visit your yard for sunflower seeds and other seed types offered in platform feeders or scattered on the ground.
- Cool Facts
- In Veracruz, Mexico, native people in the 1860s called the Yellow-eyed Junco the "caster of fire" or the "lightning bird." They believed that their eyes gathered sunlight during the day and released it at night. Listen to the full story at Birdnote.
- When it's time for a snooze, Yellow-eyed Juncos head for a tree or shrub. They grasp a branch with one foot and tuck the other one under their breast feathers, then catch a few Z's with their head tucked between the shoulders.
- On rare occasions, Yellow-eyed Juncos switch up their ground-nesting ways and nest in a tree, in a cavity, or even on top of a rain gutter or woodpile.
- The oldest recorded Yellow-eyed Junco was at least 6 years, 7 months old.