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.
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.
This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
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.
You Might Also Like
Project FeederWatch Top-25 list of feeder birds
Dark-eyed Junco from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1968)