Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)
The Dark-eyed Junco is a medium-sized sparrow with dark gray plumage on its head, breast and upper parts which contrast with the white, outer tail and white belly. The female and immature juncos are less slate colored and tend to be browner than the adult male.
Dark-eyed juncos usually hop or walk as they move along the ground. Females tend to winter farther south away from the males. Males need to risk harsh winters farther north in order to be closer to their breeding grounds. Females do not need to compete for territories in the spring and can take their time returning. The younger males winter the farthest north and must work hard to claim a breeding spot. Dominant birds have an advantage when feeding and claiming territories and will face another bird and raise and fan their tails, revealing the white outer tail feathers. They may also rush at or peck at subordinate birds in order to chase them away. Aggressive behavior occurs mainly in winter flocks and increases with increasing flock size.
Dark-eyed Juncos are often called “Snowbirds,” possibly due to the fact that they are more likely to visit feeding stations during snowy periods. Many people also believe their return from their northern breeding grounds foretells the return of cold and snowy weather. Another possible source of the nickname may be the white belly plumage and slate-colored back of the Junco, which has been described as “leaden skies above, snow below.”