Wild Profile: Meet the dark-eyed junco

Updated: December 11, 2019

By Laura Mountainspring/Shutterstock

Adorable, fluffy, and plump, dark-eyed juncos are nicknamed “the snowbirds”—but it’s not because they all head to Florida when the cold weather rolls around. Cottage country winters aren’t too cold for these guys.

During the summer season, you can find the sparrows in every province and territory; during winter, on the other hand, those in mountainous, northern breeding territories prefer our cold weather, and congregate in pockets, 25 to a flock, from B.C. to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dark-eyed juncos hit southern areas in cottage country ready to chow down: they’re probably one of the most common winter feeder birds in North America.

They come in so many colour variations—slate grey; pink-sided; red-backed; grey-headed—that until 1980 ornithologists thought all these birds were different species. But the differences are geographical; not genetic. In most of Eastern Canada, the slate-grey birds (pictured) are the most common.

Juncos are among the 10 per cent of birds that hybridize; they’ll breed with white-throated sparrows, even though the two birds are a different genus (they evolved into separate lines at least one million years ago).

PSA time! Got cats? Keep them inside: dark-eyed juncos are easy targets. They’re ground feeders and, even in winter, spend most of the time obliviously hopping around and foraging. Gotta eat.

 

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