- 5.5–6.3 in
- 7.1–9.8 in
- 0.6–1.1 oz
- Slightly larger than a Chipping Sparrow.
- Junco ardoisé (French)
- Junco ojo oscuro (Spanish)
- Juncos are the "snowbirds" of the middle latitudes. Over most of the eastern United States, they appear as winter sets in and then retreat northward each spring. Some juncos in the Appalachian Mountains remain there all year round, breeding at the higher elevations. These residents have shorter wings than the migrants that join them each winter. Longer wings are better suited to flying long distances, a pattern commonly noted among other studies of migratory vs. resident species.
- The Dark-eyed Junco is one of the most common birds in North America and can be found across the continent, from Alaska to Mexico, from California to New York. A recent estimate set the junco’s total population at approximately 630 million individuals.
- The oldest recorded Dark-eyed Junco was at least 11 years, 4 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in West Virginia.
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.
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.
- Clutch Size
- 3–6 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1-3 broods
- Egg Length
- 0.7–0.8 in
- Egg Width
- 0.6–0.6 in
- 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.
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.
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.
© René Corado / WFVZ
© René Corado / WFVZ
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.
Dark-eyed Juncos are numerous and widespread, though the North American Breeding Bird Survey reports that populations declined by about 1.2% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 45%. 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 a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Dark-eyed Junco is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.
- 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). In The Birds of North America, No. 716 (A. Poole, Ed.).The Birds of North America Online, Ithaca, New York.
- Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
- Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2015. Longevity Records of North American Birds.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2014. North American Breeding Bird Survey 1966–2014 Analysis..
Resident to medium-distance migrant. Juncos that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate to the southern United States in winter. Some populations in the Rocky Mountains are only short-distance migrants, and some individuals in the West and in the Appalachian Mountains of the East don’t migrate at all.
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.
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Dark-eyed Junco from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1968)