Bird Watcher's General Store

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Where Are the Juncos?

Dear Bird Folks,

One of my favorite birds is the junco, but for the past two years I haven’t seen any at my feeders. Do you know if something has happened to them?

-D.B., Brewster


Relax D.B.,

The juncos are alive and well, but there is something else that appears to be headed for extinction, New England’s famous winters.

Juncos are little sparrowie birds that spend most of their lives picking at seeds on the ground. They are very common birds that practically inhabit the entire continent. They are so widespread that scientists can’t decide if there are many different kinds of juncos or if they are all part of the same species. And because of that, the junco has been giving bird people fits trying to decide what to call it. Depending when your bird book was written, it may be called “Northern Junco” or perhaps “Slate-colored Junco.” This week they are calling it “Dark-Eyed Junco.” Stay turned.

What many normal people call juncos is simply “snowbirds.” Not because they spend the winter in Fort Myers, but because they seem to appear like magic after the first snowfall. As we said above, juncos spend most of their life picking at seeds on the ground. They also like to eat under our feeders. In some areas of the country they are listed as the most common feeder bird. But given a choice, juncos prefer to eat natural food and will only come to feeders when natural food is low or covered up by snow. Hence the name “snowbird.”

Juncos don’t breed here on Cape Cod and are most often seen in fall migration. The population that winters here has had little reason to come to our yards because there has been lack of snow to cover up natural food. But juncos are around. I have seen plenty of them on my walks through local fields.

The only thing that you can do to get juncos to your yard is to hope for a big old snowstorm. Perhaps you could perform some kind of elaborate snow dance out in your front yard. If it works and we get snow, you’ll probably see plenty of juncos. If it doesn’t work, at least your neighnbors will have a good laugh.