Arkansas Bird of the Month: Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
November 11, 2022
It's November, and my yard is a carpet of small, black and white birds - the dark-eyed juncos. This is my signal that cold weather is fast approaching because these lovely, little birds are the true harbingers of winter in this part of the United States.
Dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) are medium-sized sparrows that spend the warmer parts of the year in Canada and in the mountains of the western United States. However, they come pouring into the rest of the country for the winter months.
A very distinctive characteristic of the the dark-eyed junco is its pink bill! They also have an easily recognizable contrasting black to white feather pattern; although in some forms, the dark color may range from gray (as in the above image) to a light brown. You will notice a flash of white from the tail feathers when they flit about, and they are extremely fast flyers!
You may first notice dark-eyed juncos feeding on seeds in your yard or around your bird feeders. They are primarily ground feeders, but will hop up on a hanging bird feeder, especially if small seeds are offered. I have a low to the ground platform feeder that they seem to prefer over my hanging perch feeders.
When dark-eyed juncos first arrive, they are a bit skittish when I am in their general area, and go into hiding in nearby shrubs and trees. With a bit of time, they seem to settle in and get used to my presence, and that's when they are relatively easy to photograph, even from close range. If you plan on "dark-eyed junco photography" this winter, the positive is that you have plenty of time. The juncos will be with us (in Arkansas) until March or April. I find that they produce a beautiful image on snow covered branches. So, let's hope for at least one pretty snowfall this season. Meanwhile, enjoy these delightful winter visitors!
UPDATE: Every year is a little different. and I spotted my first fall dark-eyed junco today, October 11, 2023. It's a bit early, but perhaps this is just the leading edge of the species migration. We're at least a week away from much cooler temperatures, and I am still feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds and harvesting tomatoes. Definitely a different scenario than 2022!