Dark-eyed Juncos are also called Snowbirds! They have this nickname because they come to stay with us before the first snowfall, usually in October, and leave our Western Mass area in the spring. These chunky little birds are so sweet! They are actually part of the sparrow family, though they do not look like a sparrow to me. The males are slate-colored (dark gray to almost black) with puffy, white bellies. The females are a paler shade of gray with white bellies. Females also have some tannish looking sides. Juncos have a small straight, light pink colored beak and a black area near their eyes and nose. They have pinkish legs and black feet. They have a straight tail that is a mix of gray and white that you can see easily when they fly. There are other types of Juncos in different parts of the country, but we only have the slate-colored species. They move by hopping around!
Juncos prefer to eat off the ground but will use bird feeders if the can access them easily. My Juncos like my finch food. In the wild, they eat insects and seeds mainly. In my yard, they like the basic Nyjer seeds, or my “fancy” blend that also has Golden Millet Seeds and Sunflower Kernel pieces-all very small, fed through a finch feeder. They like it best when I sprinkle it on the ground. Juncos are pretty timid so lots of times they will get scared away from food easily by the other birds. I found that if I put my seed inside an old dog crate, my Juncos will go inside and eat and the larger birds and pesky squirrels don’t bother them as much. The House Sparrows will eat beside them as they like this mix too. I have also seen them enjoy my suet and they will occasionally come to my birdbath too.
Juncos’ calls are rather timid as well. They easily get drowned out by other birds’ calls unless you listen carefully. They have 3 basic songs, but I mostly hear their very faint chirping calls. My Juncos are pretty used to me, so they don’t fly away when they see me, but these birds are easily startled in the wild. I was walking through Fountain Park in Wilbraham recently and startled a flock of them. I got some audio of the chirps and sounds they made when flying. Last winter, I became quite attached to one Junco I named Janie. She had a broken leg that she dragged behind her. She was such a trouper, hopping round on 1 leg until she migrated. She did not come back this winter. ☹
These little cuties live near wooded areas generally and like to hang out in shrubs and under things like decks-just like the Carolina Wrens do. Juncos raise 1 or 2 sets of babies yearly if they are lucky. They will build little nests that look like cups hidden under thicket. But we do not see these nests in our area much because Juncos are not here in May through August when they have their 3-5 babies. I must admit that I am not as excited to see my Juncos return in the fall as I am to see my hummingbirds return in the spring because I am not a fan of winter. However, I will always be a fan of these sweet little snowbirds! I included a picture of Janie from last year, a Junco in flight and one from my current flock!