How to Attract More Juncos to Your Backyard

Flocks of juncos arrive with cold snowy weather. Learn the best foods to offer at feeders and plants to grow to attract juncos and keep them coming back.

dark-eyed juncoCourtesy Andrew Grgurich
Birders know winter has arrived when the dark-eyed juncos start showing up.

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 Northwoods and the western mountains. Then they 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 juncos, it takes a couple of feeders and the right plants to keep them full and coming back for more.

Check out 8 cool facts about dark-eyed juncos.

What Do Juncos Eat?

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 they may snatch a juicy berry from a fruit-producing shrub.

Learn the best way to attract birds that don’t visit bird feeders.

dark-eyed juncoCourtesy Linda Meerten Meer
There are more than a dozen types of dark-eyed juncos across the United States, like this Oregon junco.

Eastern vs. Western Junco Species 

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 types of juncos, like white-winged and gray-headed, are less common with limited ranges. 

Mixed Flock Behavior

Juncos are part of the sparrow family. Where junco ranges overlap, you may find several types in one winter flock. Look for these dark-eyed beauties in mixed flocks with other sparrows and bluebirds. And when you do, look for their signature detail—a pretty pink bill.

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten is the executive editor of Birds & Blooms. She's been with the brand in various roles since 2007. She has many favorite birds (it changes with the seasons), but top picks include the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak. Her bucket list bird is the painted bunting.