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Our Backyard Birds: The Dark-eyed Junco

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A Dark-eyed Junco	(Junco hyemalis) on a branch in fall.
Dark-eyed Junco in Fall

Backyard Birding: The Dark-eyed Junco

(Junco hyemalis)



Being ground-feeders, Dark-eyed Juncos primarily feed on seed. At feeders, they seem to prefer millet, hulled sunflower seed, and cracked corn.


Platform feeders are the best feeders but make sure you sprinkle plenty of good quality bird seed mix on the ground.


The Dark-eyed Junco is a medium-sized sparrow with a rounded head, a short, stout bill, and a fairly long, noticeable tail. Juncos vary across the country, but in general, they’re slate gray or brown birds brightened up by a pink bill and white outer tail feathers that periodically flash open during flight. Males tend to have darker, more conspicuous markings than the females.


My favorite winter bird, the Dark-eyed Junco is one of the most common birds in North America. They can be found all across the continent, from Alaska to Mexico, from California to New York. A recent estimate set the junco’s total population at 630 million birds. Dark-eyed Juncos are cool, flashy little sparrows that flit about the forest floors of the western mountains and Canada in warmer months. When winter weather hits, they flood the rest of North America, giving them the nickname “snowbirds”.

Look for small flocks at or near your feeders. Keep your eyes on the ground and listen for their ticking call (it sounds like a Star Wars TIE fighter!), or their pleasant song.

Surprisingly, they build their nests on the ground or very close to the ground. Junco nests are found amid tall grasses or brushy undergrowth that offer protection from the elements and predators, such as chipmunks. The female Junco weaves plant materials such as moss, twigs, and leaves into a tightly woven cup and uses her body weight to create an impression to lay her eggs.

A Dark-eyed Junco	(Junco hyemalis) feeds on the ground.
Dark-eyed Junco

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the Dark-eyed Junco and how you can attract them to your backyard. If this is your first time visiting my website or reading one of my blog posts, welcome, and thank you for joining us. Please subscribe here so you can receive updates on the next blog posts on Backyard Birding. You will also receive occasional discounts and newsletters. Remember to follow the Nature First and Leave No Trace principles and always strive to leave places better than you found them. Please share this blog post with your friends and family who have a love for birds, bird photography, or backyard birding.

Until next time, keep the sun behind you and the birds in view.


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