For the Birds: Oregon Junco

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Male Oregon Junco


Oregon Juncos, Our Local Dark-eyed Junco
By Christine Southwick
Photos by Christine Southwick

A startled bird dives into a bush, showing a flash of white tail-feathers as a warning. That’s a sure sign that you just saw a junco. Stand still, watch for movement and flashes of white on or near the ground and listen for their contact call, a kind of a clicking sound.

The juncos we have here are Oregon Juncos, with an occasional Slate-colored Junco thrown in. These juncos are a sub-species of Dark-eyed Juncos (that’s how they are listed in bird books), which are members of the Sparrow family.

Female Oregon Junco

Juncos prefer edges of mixed forests, until late fall when they form small flocks, become less picky, and can be found out in more open areas. Because they become obvious in the winter they are nicknamed the “Snowbird” in the east.

Unless you have an area with dense shrubs with trees, you probably only have juncos in your yard from about September until March, at which time they migrate higher up, or further north to breed.

If you do have good cover in and around your yard, you may have juncos all year round, although they seem scarce in August. The rapid trill of the mate-seeking, territorial male is delightful, and if you find a nest in a hanging basket, it is probably a junco’s. Juncos do not use nest boxes, preferring to hide their nests on or near the ground. I’ve had juncos nesting in evergreen clematis and on a low branch of a pine tree. The female, who sometimes sings, hides her nest for 3-5 eggs, usually in a clump of grass, behind a log, rock or tree root. Both parents feed their young, and often raise a second brood here.

Slate-colored Junco

Since juncos are ground feeders and nesters, cats are especially dangerous to juncos, and should be kept indoors, even at nights. Because ground nests are so vulnerable, juncos leave the nest 9-12 days after hatching, before they can fly.

If you want juncos in your yard, plant flowers and put up a feeder. Provide water and shrubs, and evergreen trees for shade. Juncos like escape routes using multi–stemmed shrubs, like rhodys and snowberry. Besides, it’s fun to watch them plummet from a small branch, and brake just before certain destruction.

In August, don’t deadhead all your flowers. Leave the seed for the juncos and other birds, and you may have your own Snowbirds with their flashing white bellies and startling white outer tail-feathers.

1 comments:

Rick Wright November 13, 2013 at 10:39 AM  

Nice article! Do you have any other photos of the bird captioned slate-colored?

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