About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Did I spot a rare bird?

I think I spotted a western species of junco at our feeder the other day. It was more of a brown bird instead of the usual slate-colored junco? Do you think it was blown off course by the recent winds?

In 1973 by the American Ornithologists’ Union grouped five junco species into a single species called the Dark-eyed Junco. The five subspecies are closely related and have similar habits, but differ in color and distribution, though they interbreed where their ranges meet. Michigan is typically home to the subspecies hyemalis, the Slate-colored Junco. The browner western subspecies, "Oregon" Junco, is a very rare stray in the east.

What you may have seen were the female juncos. They are typically browner than the males and are the first to pass through during migration. Up to 70% of Juncos wintering in the southern U.S. are females. The juncos we see all winter in the Lansing area are typically males. They the risk harsh winters in the northern states in order to be the first ones back to their upper Michigan and Canadian breeding grounds to stake out a territory in the spring.

The Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis 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.

They 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.”


Rouge River Bird Observatory said...

Confusing juncos - great info here http://bit.ly/PKOqd "Juncos: What do we know?"

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Thank you for the information. It's easy to lump all of these birds as Slate-colored variants right now but I hope continued investigation will make everything clearer in the future.