Dark-eyed Junco

The Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is the best-known species of junco, a genus of small American sparrows.

Adult juncos are generally grey on top and have a white belly and white outer tail feathers. The bill is usually pinkish. Other than those similar characteristics, there are several regional variations:

  • The Slate-colored Junco (J. hyemalis hyemalis) has a dark slate-grey head, breast and upper parts. Females are brownish grey. It is found in North America in taiga forests from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to the Appalachian Mountains, wintering further south; it is relatively common in its range.
  • The White-winged Junco (J. hyemalis aikeni) has a grey head, breast and upper parts with white wing bars. Females are brownish grey. It is found in the mid-western United States in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, and is relatively rare.
  • The Oregon Junco (J. hyemalis oreganus) is found on the Pacific coast mountains from southeastern Alaska to extreme northern Baja California. It has (see photo, right) a blackish-gray head and breast with a brown back and wings and reddish flanks. This is the most common form in the west.
  • The Pink-sided Junco (J. hyemalis mearnsi) has a grey head and breast, with a brown back and wings. It has pinkish-brown flanks. It is found in the northern Rocky Mountains from southern Alberta, Canada to Idaho and Wyoming in the northern United States.
  • The Gray-headed Junco (J. hyemalis caniceps) is found in the southern Rocky Mountains from Colorado to central Arizona. It is mainly grey on top with a rusty back, similar to the Yellow-eyed Junco except having dark eyes like the other races of J. hyemalis.
  • The Red-backed Junco (J. hyemalis dorsalis) is found in the southern mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. It has a dark upper mandible and rust-color on the wings, making it still more similar to the Yellow-eyed Junco, with which it does not overlap in breeding range.

Their breeding habitat includes coniferous and mixed forest areas throughout North America. They usually choose well-hidden locations on the ground or low in shrubs or trees to build their nests in.

Northern birds of this species migrate further south; although many populations are permanent residents or altitudinal migrants. In winter, juncos are familiar in and around towns and cities. The Slate-colored Junco is a rare vagrant to Western Europe and has wintered in Great Britain, usually in a domestic garden.

These birds forage on the ground. In winter, they often forage in flocks that may comprise several races. They mainly eat insects and seeds.

The song is a trill similar to the Chipping Sparrow’s, except that the Red-backed’s song is more complex, similar to the Yellow-eyed Junco’s. Calls include “tick” sounds and very high-pitched tinkling chips.