Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis


Dark-eyed Junco
The juncos are year-round residents in our garden, where they have nested on the ground and at least once in a hanging flower-pot (see below). This species, widely distributed in North America, is divided into several different types, formerly recognized as four different species in the US: Oregon, Slate-colored, Gray-headed, and White-winged. In the SF Bay Area, we have the Oregon type, with the occasional Slate-colored. Male Oregon juncos, see above and below, have a darker and more solid-colored hood than Oregon females, though the distinction is not always sharp.
 


Dark-eyed Junco


Dark-eyed Junco
The female Oregon junco above is carrying a moth to feed her young in a park near our house in 2008; below, in 2005 on our back deck, a female feeds a fledgling, showing more clearly the mix of brown feathers with dark gray. The juvenile has the all-over brown striping standard for all types of Dark-eyed Junco. We have noted nests for this species in our yard in most years, located in ground cover, bushes, planters, hanging flower pots, and even one year in a wreath on our front door. In at least three years, we have had junco nests parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds; a look at that page will show shows small juncos struggling to incubate and then feed the much larger cowbird offspring.


Dark-eyed Juncos


Dark-eyed Juncos
Junco nestlings form a feathered carpet on the bottom of the neatly woven cup nest in a hanging flower pot of geraniums in our back yard in 2010. Juncos also nest on the ground, and have done so in our star-jasmine ground cover. The five visible eyes in this picture show the number of young birds crammed together in this nest; three of them are also showing the bright yellow "lips" (rictal flanges) of their bills. The striped juvenal plumage is fully developed, indicating that these young birds are ready to leave the nest. And indeed they did early on the morning after this photo was taken, which we estimated to have been the eleventh day after the birds hatched. I bent over and peered into the nest and all five birds exploded out in my face, leaving me with a seriously pounding heart.
 

Dark-eyed Juncos
Above, two Oregon junco fledglings bathing and facing off in our back yard in 2018. These are presumably two of four young juncos who a few days previous had fledged from their neat little nest well concealed in an eye-level planter just outside our kitchen. 

Dark-eyed Junco
The Slate-colored, shown above and below, is the most widespread of the Dark-eyed Junco types, found across most of North America. This type shows little or no contrast between head and body color. Males like the bird below, photographed in Alaska, are more uniformly dark gray above, while females, as above, show more brown. Slate-coloreds are common in California north of San Francisco Bay, including coastal Sonoma County, where this bird was photographed. 


Dark-eyed Junco


Dark-eyed Junco
The Pink-sided type of Dark-eyed Junco, shown above, winters in New Mexico, eastern Arizona and west Texas, and nests mostly in Montana and Wyoming. The hood is relatively pale gray, with pronounced dark lores, and the back and flanks are extensively pinkish. Before the four former junco species were lumped under the single designation Dark-eyed Junco, the Pink-sided was sometimes considered a fifth species, but more often was treated as a subspecies of the Oregon Junco.


Dark-eyed Junco
The Gray-headed type, shown above, also winters in the Southwest, but it nests further south than the Pink-sided, mostly in Utah and Colorado. The well-defined rufous mantle and the absence of color on the flanks distinguish it from the Pink-sided in appearance. The Gray-headed bird below, photographed in Chihuahua, Mexico, shows a rufous patch on the crown that may be an individual anomaly, as I have not found it described in the literature. Gray-headed Dark-eyed Juncos overlap in range with the Yellow-eyed Junco, recognized as a separate species, in southeastern Arizona and down into Mexico, and their plumage is quite similar to that of the Yellow-eyed.


Dark-eyed Junco