High Desert Bird of the Month                       

 Dark-eyed Junco
Junco hyemalis

Dark-eyed Juncos are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter. They’re easy to recognize by their sharp markings and the bright white tail feathers. The Junco is a medium-sized sparrow with a rounded head, a short, stout bill and a fairly long, conspicuous tail. Juncos vary across the country, but in general they’re dark gray or brown birds brightened up by a pink bill and white outer tail feathers that periodically flash open, particularly in flight.

Dark-eyed Juncos are birds of the ground. They can be found hopping around the bases of trees and shrubs in forests or venture out onto lawns looking for fallen seeds. You’ll often hear their high chip notes while foraging, or intensifying as they take short, low flights through the vegetation.  They are primarily seed-eaters, with seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, sorrel, and the like making up about 75% of their year-round diet. At bird feeders they seem to prefer millet over sunflower seeds. During the breeding season, Dark-eyed Juncos also eat insects including beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and flies.

Female Juncos build the nests, using her beak to weave together materials and her body to give the nest its shape. Nests can be quite variable depending on where they are built. Sometimes ground nests get just a fine lining of grasses or pine needles. Other nests may be built on a foundation of twigs, leaves and moss, then lined with grasses, ferns, rootlets, hair, and fine pieces of moss. The nests usually take 3-7 days to build. It’s rare for a junco to reuse a nest.

One of the most abundant forest birds of North America, in Reno & surrounding areas you’ll see Juncos on woodland walks as well as in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them.  The Dark-eyed Junco is one of the most common birds in North America and can be found across the continent, from Alaska to Mexico, from California to New York. A recent estimate set the Junco’s total population at approximately 630 million individuals.

For more information on Dark-eyed Juncos, visit one of the three Moana Nursery store locations:  1100 W. Moana Ln. & 11301 S. Virginia St., Reno and 7644 Pyramid Hwy., Sparks. 

Carmel Ruiz-Hilton is Manager of Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shops at Moana Nursery in Reno/Sparks