Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dark-eyed Junco

Every winter an older gentleman from the Spring Lake area phones the nature park to ask about “these birds at [his] feeder.” And every year we deduce that they are Dark-eyed Juncos. He knows the juncos are the same kind of birds he sees every year, but he just can’t seem to remember that name “junco.”

It is an odd name. Some people think it’s an ugly name because it sounds like “junk” and these adorable little sparrows are not “trash birds.” I don’t understand the name, really – even when I know what it means in Latin – but I can offer you this memory tool: “Are they ‘junk?’ No!” (Get it? “Junk No/Junco.” I know, I know. Awful.)

While you try to wash that terrible pneumonic out of your brain, consider how to identify a Dark-eyed Junco:

There’s a bird in your yard (or more probably, a few of them)…
It spends a lot of time on the GROUND around the bird feeder instead of on the feeder.
It’s a bit round.
Its tail is longer than a wren’s tail is.
Its tail is not cocked up like a wren’s tail is.
It has a lot of solid gray or charcoal around the face and head.
Its belly is white, or whitish.
It has white strips along the edges of its tail that you see when it flies.
Its bill is pink.
Its whole eye looks black.
Okay, right here is where things get a little muddled. All of the statements above describe a Dark-eyed Junco, and if you can identify a Dark-eyed Junco you are doing as well as any birder needs to, but there is more…

Dark-eyed Juncos are all over the continent and all over the continent they interact with and interbreed with Dark-eyed Juncos of five separate races. At one time in the history of bird watching, these races were considered separate species. Now – because they so readily interbreed – they are lumped together as one.

Look carefully at the Slate-colored, Red-backed, Pink-sided, Oregon, and Gray-headed Dark-eyed Junco images to see if you can discern the differences. (Photos are in that order).

A flock of Dark-eyed Juncos at your feeder – of any and all races – is a delight. Just imagine! They could have flown all the way from Inuvik!

Check out the Shreveport Bird Study Group's Chart of Seasonal Occurrences to see when the juncos are usually in our area.