Monday, October 21, 2013

Dark-eyed Junco

You may have noticed, if you feed the seed-eating birds, that the Dark-eyed Juncos have returned to southern Wisconsin.  That is good evidence winter is coming, if you need more evidence.

Dark-eyed Juncos are ground feeders. They travel in small bands with other bird species mostly for protection, as more eyes offer more protection from predators.  But traveling with friends is beneficial for other reasons, too.  

Many birds like nuthatches, woodpeckers and finches aren’t comfortable foraging on the ground and prefer to remain elevated for better sight lines and escape routes.  As they peck around seed feeders looking for just the right seed, many are rejected and tossed to the ground.

Enter the Dark-eyed Junco.   Below the feeder is where the Dark-eyed Junco finds his food…on the ground.  Lucky for you! What could be better than a dutiful bird cleaning up that mess? Seeds rarely go to waste when the juncos are on duty.  

Juncos come in many color variations. They are in the sparrow family, although they barely resemble the common sparrow.

They prefer the cooler side of the thermometer, too, and leave for Canada as Wisconsin warms in the early spring.  They don’t return until October. 

Foraging in the company of others served this band of junco well, when an alert-call came from a trio of crows landing in the treetops above.


The  crows' alarm calls scattered the foraging group in all directions.  Seconds later a young Cooper’s Hawk appeared, spring-boarding from limb to limb, only to disappear as quickly as he arrived. Leaving foiled and empty-handed, the hawk was closely followed by the crows, still annoyed by his presence.

Slowly emerging from dense cover…the area was deemed safe again.

Dark-eyed Juncos seem to prefer millet.  Never saving a seed for later, they eat what they find where they find it. 

Whatever signals they share between them when it is time to depart, they all know it and leave in a group. 

Click any picture to enlarge

Starting now and continuing throughout winter you can have Dark-eyed Juncos at your window for the miniscule cost of millet in your seed mixture.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 
               All About Birds

Credit: The Sibley Guide to Birds