The Dark-eyed Junco is a small hooded sparrow about 6-6.5 inches. It has a rounded head, usually a whitish belly, and a stout, pale bill. It has distinguishing white outer tail feathers that flash as it flies. Dark-eyed Juncos vary across the country. Peterson lists five main subspecies groups: “Oregon” Junco, “Pink-sided” Junco, “Gray-headed” Junco, “Slate-colored” Junco, and the “White-winged” Junco.

The “Oregon” Junco is generally the most widespread species in the West and the one I commonly see at the Arboretum. The male has a dark hood, brown back, and buffy sides. The female and immature are duller and have a lower contrasting gray hood. These earth tones are excellent camouflage and improve your awareness of nature. If I am not paying attention, it is easy to walk up on Juncos foraging along the trail and flush them into the underbrush.

In winter, they form small flocks. At the Arboretum, I regularly count a group of around 50 birds together. They stay in constant contact with each other as they forage and move through the landscape. Their communication sounds are fairly subdued, so keep a keen ear out. Peterson describes their vocalization call as “a light smack.” They also have “clicking or twittering notes.”

For me, Juncos are warm-hearted, peaceful little birds. They can be fairly tolerant of my presence if I am quiet, move slowly, or sit still. I always look forward to hearing their gentle, trilling song in the spring. At the moment, you don’t have to go far to find them. I regularly see them foraging on grass seeds in the parking lot or the meadows just beyond the White Oak Pavilion.

Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. I look forward to seeing you out there.

See more of Bryan’s work here.


Dark-Eyed Junco Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Accessed 11 Feb. 2023.

Peterson, Roger Tory, et al. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. 4th ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.