Dark-eyed juncos reappear in many parts of the Lower 48 just as winter comes alive each year. They leave their breeding grounds in the North Woods and the western mountains to descend on backyard feeding stations across much of the U.S. Many people, like Birds & Blooms reader Jennifer Hardison from Athens, Tennessee, have a nickname for juncos. “We call them snowbirds because we only see them after a snowfall,” she says. To attract a whole flock of these backyard favorites to your own space, it takes a couple of feeders and the right plants to keep them full and coming back for more.
Serve the Right Stuff
In winter, juncos feast on seeds of weeds and grasses that are left standing in your landscape or in fields, parks and open woodlands. Seeds from common plants such as chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s-quarters and sorrel make up 75 percent of their year-round diet. But juncos also supplement with feeder foods. These snowbirds prefer to forage on the ground for millet, sunflower hearts or cracked corn that has fallen from your feeders. They may occasionally steal a seed from a platform or tray feeder, or snatch a juicy berry from a fruit-producing shrub.
East vs. West
Depending on where you live, your juncos may look different. Those found in the eastern half of the U.S. are charcoal gray on top with white bellies and known as slate-colored types. The most common variety in the west is called the Oregon junco. Male Oregons sport a solid black or slaty hood, chestnut-colored back, rusty sides and a white belly. Other juncos, like white-winged and gray-headed, are less common with limited ranges. Where junco ranges overlap, though, you may find several types in one winter flock. And when you do, look for their signature detail—a pretty pink bill.
BONUS BACKYARD TIP
Juncos are part of the sparrow family. Look for these dark-eyed beauties in flocks with other sparrows and bluebirds.
Junco Tales from Readers
“While I was visiting Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains, this friendly dark-eyed junco let me get closer for a picture. This is one of my favorite snapshots from the entire trip.” — Elisabeth Belokas, Downers Grove, Illinois
“On New Year’s Day I found some time to go outside and watch birds. As I sat on the porch, a few of them flew right up to the feeders hanging from the eave. This junco sat on a nearby branch for a while and let me snap away!” — Ra Del Hinckley, Independence, Missouri