Dark-eyed juncos are the most common birds in my garden. Last weekend Feederwatch season started and as usual I got over ten dark-eyed juncos with only one to three birds for all other species! They apparently love my garden as there is usually at least one on a feeder and multiple camouflaging themselves on the ground. They are also probably the only garden bird species I have noticed that does not seem to be bothered with the weather. They migrate here from northern Canada during the winter and stay at the feeders rain or shine. I suppose most birds must do that but I do not get enough of other species in the sun either. Anybody who has lived in BC for a couple of years knows that in order to survive a winter, it is impossible to stay holed up during the bad weather without eventually starving, even for us humans!
Dark-eyed juncos will eat just about anything seed related, another reason why they are so common in gardens. They will eat suet but I believe they prefer seed feeders. One of my seed feeders is filled with nyjer (also known as niger) and the other with mixed. The juncos prefer the mixed seed but they are still seen on both and the mixed does contain nyjer anyway. As mentioned earlier, dark-eyed juncos also forage on the ground. It makes them harder to spot with their brown bodies and black heads but they in the wild they pick worms and bugs out of the dirt so they will be happy to do the same if you leave plenty of leaves (pardon the pun!) on the dirt in autumn/fall or really just any dirt that may contain life.
- Dark-eyed juncos used to be known as snow birds. This is because they were only found in southern Canada during the winter as they spent summer further north. Now however many of them have apparently learnt just how much easier it is to stay and breed here rather than being cold all year and making a long migration twice a year for only the sake of tradition! We get more juncos in the winter but they are still common year-round so cannot exactly be called a snow-bird when they are seen in the blazing summer sun.
- Most birds in the common garden birds category can be considered similar to a junco. Chickadees have the same black head, towhees are mainly black and brown, and sparrows have a similar body type as a junco is actually part of the sparrow family. However, a dark-eyed junco is fairly unique. They have dark but not pitch black heads (not just around the eyes) and the rest of their bodies are brown with a white front. The most distinctive part about a junco however is the tail. In flight, their tails flash open to reveal strikingly white outer feathers. I am from New Zealand so when I first saw a junco in flight, I was convinced that it must be some family member of the fantail. It obviously was not as fantails are native to New Zealand but that has always distinguished the dark-eyed junco from all other bird species for me.
- As you may have noticed by the name “dark-eyed junco” rather than simply “junco”, the dark-eyed junco is part of a larger family of juncos. Other species include yellow-eyed and volcano but none of the others are actually found in BC. What you might have heard of however are the slate-coloured, oregon, or pink sided juncos (as well as a few others). These are all subspecies of the dark-eyed junco and are the reason why some juncos may have very distinct markings while other appear fully brown or black with a white front. I have not memorized these names myself so I cannot help with that but the most important thing is to know that it is a dark-eyed junco. Subspecies breed with each other anyway so there is not always one definite answer anyway.
This picture of a dark-eyed junco was taken by Mum and located at the mixed seed feeder in my garden.