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picture of dark eyed junco
Picture of the
Dark-Eyed Junco

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Many folks think of juncos as their "snowbirds." And for good reason. Many juncos winter in the United States, breeding farther north during the spring and summer. Across America, they show up in winter, with bellies as white as a snow flurry and backs the color of a snow-laden sky. Nationwide, they are considered one of the top five most common feeder birds in the winter.

Dark-eyed juncos are the primary visitor to backyards in the east and are identified as dark slate gray on the head with a distinctive white underbelly. Western Juncos have a black hood with a chestnut mantle, but still sport that telltale white or buff belly. They are sparrow sized, and measure about 5 -6" long with a light-colored bill.

Range and Habitat

These lively territorial birds are primarily ground dwellers and feed on seeds, insects, berries and small fruits in the open. If ragweed makes your allergies act up, say a BIG THANK YOU to juncos, as almost a third of their winter diet consists of ragweed seeds! Juncos prefer openings and edges of conifers and mixed woods, bordering a stream, pond, lake, trail or mountain meadow. They are found in abundance along roadsides, parks and suburban gardens. Juncos are common in the northern parts of North America during the spring and summer breeding months, and more abundant in the southern reaches during fall and winter.

Some Tips on Attracting Juncos to Your Backyard

  • Juncos are primarily ground feeders, and enjoy the millet found in mixed bird seed, sunflower hearts and cracked corn spread on the ground or in a platform feeder. Ground level platform bird feeders offer a large feeding area and mesh bottoms that will keep the food off the ground, keep it fresher and allow for drainage.
  • Juncos can sometimes be attracted to suet if it is offered low to the ground.
  • Open ground and gardens gone to seed are a favorite haunt of juncos as they flock together in the winter. Juncos are particularly fond of the seeds from cosmos and zinnia. Consider leaving a space in your yard untended and free of chemicals.
  • Plant pines, sweet gum and Russian olives to attract these birds naturally.
  • Juncos like to nest on the ground in mudbanks, tufts of weeds, fallen logs or rock ledges. They build their nests with rootlets, shreds of bark, twigs, mosses, grasses and hair. Offer shelter on the ground in the form of dense shrubs, and offer concentrated stashes of their favorite nesting materials nearby.
  • As with all birds and wildlife, a source of fresh, clean water is a strong attractant. Be sure to offer a ground level water source to attract lots of these beautiful juncos!

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