Tag Archives: Junco hyemalis

SNOWBIRDS – WE LOVE YOU, BUT PLEASE GO BACK FROM WHERE YOU CAME!

Life at the Edge of the Sea- Dark-eyed Juncos arrive September 19th

Over the very last remaining days of summer a sweet flock of Dark-eyed Juncos has been spotted on Eastern Point. Beautiful Song Sparrow-sized birds feathered in shades of gray and white, Dark eyed Juncos purportedly arrive in mid-October and are thought to presage the coming of winter.

Really little ones, you are much TOO EARLY.

Nicknamed Snow-bird in New England days of old, in fact Dark-eyed Juncos actually nest in Massachusetts, primarily in the western part of the state. Mostly Dark-eyed Juncos breed further north and migrate to warmer climes in the fall. Does their early arrival in the eastern part of the state portend of an early winter? The weather prediction for the winter of 2020 – 2021 is much more snow compared to last year’s nearly snow-less season, along with the possibility of a blizzard in mid-February (Farmer’s Almanac).

 

Study in shades of gray

Snowbird

Snowbird

Dear Gardening Friends,

As we are nestling in and readying ourselves for yet another snowstorm I am writing to you about the winsome Dark-eyed Junco that has become increasingly more prevalent in our winter garden. Dark-eyed Juncos are commonly referred to in the East as “snowbirds,’ not only because they arrive to their winter feeding grounds oftentimes at the first snow fall, but because of their distinctive coloring—gray skies above (top feathers) and snow below (breast and belly feathers). In a typical winter we see singular juncos at the Nyjer feeders and on the ground below, at the most, two to four. During this snowiest of winters, we have a larger than usual mixed-flock of small seed-eating songbirds, with many more juncos feeding alongside the finches, sparrows, nuthatches, and chickadees. Quite timorous of people and sudden noise, they dart in and out of the dense shrubbery surrounding our little garden, and seem to find the greatest security in the low-lying branches of the ‘Blue Prince’ holly bushes.

The former common name of the Dark-eyed Junco that populates the East was Slate-colored Junco, which is an apt description of the rich, dark grey-colored hoods and dorsal feathers of the male. The female’s feathers are a lighter grey. I have read that the majority of juncos that winter in our region are male, but I wonder if that is still true today, with the ever-increasing popularity of backyard bird feeding. We typically have equal numbers of males and females at our feeders.

Dark-eyed Juncos are members of the Emberizidae, a large family of passerines that share the characteristic of distinctive conically shaped bills evolved for seed eating. Family Emberizidae includes North American species of sparrows, buntings, and towhees and the group is often referred to as “LBJS” – Little Brown Jobs. The Dark-eyed Juncos bill is an easily recognized light pink.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia (Animal)

Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrates)

Class: Aves  (Birds)

Order: Passeriformes (Perching birds)

Family: Emberizidae (Seed-eating birds with conical bill)

Genus: Junco

Species: J. hyemalis

The range of the Snowbird is one of the most widespread of songbirds in North America and they can be found throughout the United States and Canada. Juncos at their northern range (the boreal forests of Canada and coniferous forests of the northern US) migrate further south, arriving in their winter feeding grounds between mid-September and November; leaving to breed by the end of April. In cold years, juncos may stay in their winter range to breed and a number of populations are permanent residents.

Juncos found throughout the US were formerly classified as different species of juncos because in various geographic regions they had quite different coloration. Their common names reflected these differences—the Gray-headed Junco of the Rocky Mountains, the black-headed and pink-sided Oregon Junco of the far western states, the White-winged Junco of the Black Hills, and the Slated-colored Junco of the East. Ornithologists discovered that where their populations overlap all birds with dark irises interbreed, which in biological terms means they are the same species. Despite the dramatic differences in their plumage, all share a similar song and diet. The juncos principle song is a dulcet trilling that lasts for several seconds and their diet consists of seeds, insects, grains, and berries. To hear a sample of the Snowbird’s melodious song: Junco typical voice.

 

Squirrel Proof Bird Feeding

Dark-eyed Junco "Snowbird"Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

The following note is from my friend Heidi Kost-Gross in Wellesley. Heidi reports many of the same species of songbirds flocking to her feeders as we attract further east on Cape Ann. She also sent information about the bee colony collaspe disorder (more re in upcoming post).

Hi Kim, Many thanks for the beautiful Cardinal pics.  I, too, have a couple at my feeders.  Wonderful companions.  I also have three Blue Jays coming in the middle of the day scaring off the little birds but not the squirrels.  What’s up with the Jays? Are they also mating for life?  Yesterday counted 24 Juncos around three feeders having a fine time.  Chicadees are ever-present and so are Titmice and Doves … counted 7 of them yesterday. House Finches and Gold Finches are steady customers as well. Seemed that Friday was feeding day all around.  What do you feed your birds.  We feed both sunflower seeds and kernels, as well as thistle seeds. Hugs and thanks for all; and all the best wishes for 2011.  May we all stay well. Heidi

Dear Heidi,

For squirrel-proof bird feeding, we feed the songbirds only Nyjer seed and safflower seed.

We fill the platform-type feeder only with safflower seeds because it has been my experience, as well as friends who I have recomended this to, that squirrels do not like safflower seeds. I would rather provide the songbirds with a more varied selection, but every time I try to sneak black oil sunflower seeds into the mix, the squirrels detect it within a day or two. I imagine the birds find different types of seeds at neighboring feeders and, of course, from wild berries and seeds.

The Nyjer seed only goes in the Nyjer seed feeder, which has tiny ports that the squirrels cannot access. Nyjer seed is the small black seed that resembles grains of wild rice, and is often called thistle seed. Nyjer is rich in protein, with a high fat content, and is highly desirable not only to the American Goldfinch and Purple Finch, but to Black-capped Chicadee, Pine Siskin, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Mourning Dove, and Eastern Towhee. Nyjer seed is the the seed of the nyjer plant (Guizotia abyssinica) native to the highlands of Ethiopia. Purportedly, there is no need to worry about it spreading noxiously as the seed sold as bird seed in this country is now heated to prevent germination.

Blue jays form lasting monogamous bonds and will typically stay together until one of the pair dies.

Thank you Heidi for all that you do, for NELDHA especially!