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Yellow-eyed Junco Life History


Open Woodlands

Yellow-eyed Juncos inhabit mountain forests from about 3,900 to 11,500 feet. They occur in ponderosa pine, pine-oak, and mixed coniferous forests. In the winter in the United States they move downhill to oak woodlands, scrub, pastures, and fields.

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Yellow-eyed Juncos forage for seeds, insects, and spiders on the ground and in trees and shrubs. They scratch the ground with a single foot or a double hop to uncover prey. In trees and shrubs, they hop along branches to pick insects from foliage. They also fly up from the ground to grab flying insects. In addition to insects and seeds, Yellow-eyed Junco drink sap from bark holes drilled by sapsuckers or from holes that occur naturally in Arizona walnut, canyon grape, and ponderosa pine. They tend to eat more insects and spiders during the summer and more seeds in the winter.

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Nest Placement


Female Yellow-eyed Juncos pick a spot on the ground, often on a slope in a shady location. The nest is typically at the base of a grass clump or concealed by a rock or log.

Nest Description

Before building a nest, females shape a hollow on the ground with their bill and feet. They then collect grasses, pine needles, and moss, weaving them together into a bulky cup-shaped nest. They line the nest with finer grasses and hair.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-3 broods
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.8-2.1 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.6 in (1.4-1.6 cm)
Incubation Period:12-15 days
Nestling Period:10-13 days
Egg Description:

Grayish white to pale bluish with tiny reddish speckling.

Condition at Hatching:

Mostly naked with bits of gray down; eyes closed.

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Ground Forager

In Arizona and New Mexico, Yellow-eyed Juncos move to lower elevations in the winter where they form flocks of up to 40 individuals; elsewhere they move less frequently, generally staying in the same area year-round. Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees often associate with winter Yellow-eyed Junco flocks. Although juncos generally tolerate each other in flocks, aggressive encounters do occur. Individuals may twitter or call at each other, assume aggressive postures, or chase each other. In late February, males start singing and aggression increases. Males continue to sing on the breeding grounds, courting females with song, struts, and tail spreading. In Arizona, males and females return to the same breeding site and often pair up with their mate from the previous season.

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Low Concern

Yellow-eyed Juncos are fairly common, but long-term monitoring to assess population trends is lacking. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 20 million. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and is a species of low conservation concern.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A., and A. S. Love (2017). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2017.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Sullivan, K. A. (2018). Yellow-eyed Junco (Junco phaeonotus), version 1.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

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