In My Backyard – Issue #8 – Dark-Eyed, Slate-Colored Junco

Dark-Eyed, Slate-colored Junco. If you’ve never heard of them you might be a bit surprised at the name. Or you might pass it off as peculiar bird taxonomy. But trust me, there’s more to it than that.

In this issue of In My Backyard, I’ve decided to pick one of our backyard regulars. At first we called them snowbirds, since they arrived in the winter and seemed to be the most noticeable in the snow, but then we looked them up and discovered their real names. The funny thing is, they are actually at times referred to as “snowbirds”. How coincidental!

 The Slate-Colored Junco is a subspecies of the species dark-eyed Junco, as opposed to the yellow-eyed juncos, all who are part of 70 genera known as Juncos. Even further, if you can bear with me, juncos are a part of the Emberizidae family, also known as buntings, or sparrows. So, in actuality, the exciting little Snowbird/Dark-eyed, Slate-colored Junco is a small sparrow. I was surprised to find this out, but there it is. And we’re not the only one’s who think its confusing. Experts in this field are still unsure of some of their biological systematics, (the study of diversification).

As you can see in the photo above (and pretty much all the rest) the junco subspecies in question is almost a complete black on top with the females being a darker brown. Their bellies are stark white in contrast, and they are known for their pink bill and long tail.

Their design reminds me of an outfit I once saw. (That’s the fashion hound in me). I can’t remember where I saw it; some old movie, I believe. It was a Spanish lady. She wore a black wrap that covered her hair and arms and reached down to the hem of her gown, a flouncy white petticoat, with only the very front peaking out. My description is so-so; I hope you get the idea. I did intend to find it and show a picture as an example but alas, I could not. Sigh.

Juncos are ground birds. They hop along the forest floor eating seeds and insects, or under the feeder, unlike other sparrows that feed on feeder and floor alike.

Their nests range from 3 – 5.5 inches across and are made in rocky crevices, the roots of overturned trees, or other protected ground areas. The female builds the nest with a variety of natural materials, weaving it in and out with her beak and gradually shaping it with her body. This takes from 3 – 7 days.

The speech of the Junco is a mixture of chirps, trills, and songs. They absently chirp while foraging, as if they have so much to say but its not too important. I would say like a group of gossiping women but I don’t like that picture. They’re too cute for that. If you are interested in hearing them, visit AllAboutBirds.org.

Here’s a bit of trivia I found especially interesting:
Juncos in the more mountainous regions tend to stay in one place instead of migrating like most juncos and as a result they bear shorter wings.

While taking pictures of the juncos, I had a few visits from some other regulars. I just had to add them to my blog post as well. On the left is a female Sparrow which I am not sure yet if we have Eurasian Tree Sparrows of House Sparrows. According to one site, Eurasian Tree Sparrows are rare for this area, but another site said otherwise. I’m still working on it. On the right is what I would guess to be a young blackbird. At first I pegged it as a female, but its fluffiness is not usual. Its tail feathers seem to be well-grown but if you check out the picture below it looks even fluffier. (Too cute!)

Check out the Fluff!

And this concludes February’s version of In My Backyard. I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you here next month. Remember, I love to hear from you and know what you think. Until next time…

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