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.
Dark-Eyed Junco Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Dark-eyed_Junco/overview. Accessed 11 Feb. 2023.
Peterson, Roger Tory, et al. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. 4th ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.