For the Birds: My 2021 Winner - Oregon Junco

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Male Oregon Junco. Photo by Craig Kerns

By Christine Southwick
 
The first birds I saw New Year’s Day was a group of Oregon Juncos.

There are actually several subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco in the northwest, but most people in this area only see the Oregon Junco, and occasionally in the wintertime a migrating Slate-colored Junco.

Female Oregon Junco (note the gray head)
Photo by Craig Kerns
Indeed, some people only have juncos in their yards starting in September when most juncos fly down from higher altitudes to savor our milder winter climate and more abundant foods.

These same juncos leave to go back to higher grounds in late April-May.

Juncos belong to the Sparrow Family, which means that they are ground nesters, with the female selecting and building her nest on or near the ground, hiding it behind a fern, tree root, or any other safe hiding place, including hanging potted plants.

The female broods 3-5 eggs for 10-13 days, and the young leave about 10 -12 days later.  This is the danger time for all ground nesters, and for safety the young often will scrabble out of the nest before they can fly.

Male feeding his fledgling. If you see an adult feeding a fledgling,
 then your yard is doing a good job. Photo by Christine Southwick.
Both parents feed their young for a couple more weeks. 

A seasonally monogamous pair usually have a couple of broods each year with the male feeding the first set of youngsters while the female is on the second set of eggs.

Dark-eyed Juncos flick their white outer tail feathers when eating, flitting, flying, and when the males are courting females. 

In the summer, the males are very assertive, and you may see males chasing others off. 

These flashes of white tail feathers are a diagnostic clue to identify this ground-hopping bird from other sparrow species.

The Slate-colored junco is a rare winter visitor
Stock photo
Some local neighbors with sheltering native plants and safe nesting sites have Oregon Juncos in their yards all year long.

These juncos, especially if there are juvenile birds being fed, are proof that yards with year-round water, native plants, space for safely raising young (which includes no pesticides), makes a difference for wild birds.

Make this year the year you make your yard one of these havens. Plant it and they will come.



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