Merlin Bird Graphic

Merlin Bird ID

Try our free app foriOS | AndroidWeb version coming soon!
Recently Viewed Species

    Dark-eyed Junco Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat ForestsDark-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

    Food

    Food SeedsDark-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

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest GroundThe 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.

    Nest Description

    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.

    Nesting Facts
    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.
    Back to top

    Behavior

    Behavior Ground ForagerWhen 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

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernDark-eyed Juncos are numerous and widespread, though the North American Breeding Bird Survey reports that populations declined by about 1.4% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 50%. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 200 million with 81% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 65% in Canada, and 7% in Mexico. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Dark-eyed Junco is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List.Back to top

    Backyard Tips

    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.

    Back to top

    Credits

    Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    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. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Nolan Jr., V., E. D. Ketterson, D. A. Cristol, C. M. Rogers, E. D. Clotfelter, R. C. Titus, S. J. Schoech and E. Snajdr. 2002. Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

    Back to top